Muskox, Frost and Snow, and the Dene People

Trip Start Aug 01, 2010
Trip End Feb 16, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Northwest Territories,
Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Day it snowed. Well at least it's nice to be all snuggled up in a warm apartment with good food to eat when it's cold and blowing wet snow outside.  Last year was much colder at this time. We keep hearing the people new to Yellowknife saying how cold it is and the people who have lived here a long time (like the radio DJs) saying we're having a sub-arctic 'heat wave'...

We found Muskox sausages for sale at the Northern Fancy Meats shop so we bought a package. They tasted a bit like goat, kind of a strong flavour. We ate the first few with our breakfast and then fried the others up with some red onions and tomatoes we had grown ourselves (starting on the patio this summer and then moving indoors under a light when it got too cold). They were really tasty this way, kind of almost Greek styled and would have been really awesome with some tzatziki sauce.  I can't wait until I can actually see the live herds of Muskox someday.  I remember this one picture I saw that a soldier had captured when she was way up in Alert on Ellesmere Island; there were many stout hoofed creatures balancing precariously on the craggy rocks with their hair blowing in the wind and clouds of frozen breath encircling their big black heads. It was an amazing picture, I'm sure more amazing in real life... someday I hope!

I was speaking with someone about the caribou herds recently. This is something I must see as well. I've been reading about them in "Late Nights on Air" and the Farley Mowat books "Lost in the Barrens" and its sequel.  It seems I must venture to the Barren Lands in order to see the caribou herds but it seems like an amazing experience not to be missed. Hundred and hundreds of beats crossing land and water in one great mass.  It was at the Aboriginal Cultural Session in Dettah that this discussion came up. The session was run by a company called B. Dene. It was a great afternoon of hiking, talking about history, culture and language in a rustic but comfortable wood cabin heated with a wonderful wood stove. Then we continued our discussions around a fire in a teepee sitting on a floor 'carpeted' in evergreen bows. I learned the reasons for names of many places and bands of people. For example, Dettah is the English version of something like Tse'ttah which means land of coal and ashes (named after a giant fire in the 1800s which left the landscape blackened), the community Lutsel K'e on the east side of the mighty Great Slave Lake (Lu means fish), the local Dogrib people are called Wilideh  (Wili means Connie fish).  I cried at their heartbreaking stories about children being taken away from their families to attend Residential schools.  And was very saddened to hear that what is now the airport grounds was once the moose migration land, and what is now Giant Mine was once blue land as far as the eye could see because blueberries were so plentiful.  Despite these depressing facts, it was a very enlightening experience to attend this session and learn about how the Dene people are facing their future.  They explained about standing up for what they believe to be best for their people and their land, and about working with the federal government to get recognized for their self government.  At this moment they have a woman acting as Chief, which I thought was amazingly cool!

I am reading a book called Never in Anger by Newfoundlander anthropologist Jean Briggs which draws a lot of connections with the place and the people of Gjoa Haven. I wish I had read this before my trip last year, it has lent a lot of insight on the language and the culture.  In an effort to learn more native culture and try my had at one of the eleven official languages of Yellowknife, I  have started to study South Slavey.  The teacher is amazing, very inspired and motivating.  It is quite difficult to pronounce the new words but it's been a lot of fun to learn.


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