WEBSITE OF TRIBE: http://www.gwichin.org/gwichin.html
1. Historical information about the culture
The Gwich’in people live farther north than any of the other North American Indians. Their communities span from north of the Arctic Circle down to the Yukon River in northern Alaska (Clark). In total, their population is around 7,000 to 9,000 people. Conventional belief states that the Gwich’in have lived in the area “for as long as 200,000 years,” though Gwich’in oral tradition suggests that they have been there “since time immemorial” (Gwich’in Council International). They speak one of the nineteen Canadian Athabaskan languages; only one other group, the Han Kutchin, may be able to understand the Gwich’in language (Moore; Clark). Gwich’in communities were traditionally nomadic, up until the 1870s, when they began to make settlements out of the forts and trading posts of colonial fur traders (Gwich’in Council International).
Because the environment is characterized by long winters, short summers, and mostly boreal forest, the Gwich’in economy has relied mainly on hunting game to survive. Their most important resource has always been the caribou. They believed in using every part of the animal. For instance, they boiled and roasted the meat, ate the bone marrow, and used the bones, antlers, and teeth for weaponry in both war and hunting. They used the caribou hides mainly for making clothes and covering their homes. They even used caribou sinew to thread their bowstrings (Krech). The caribou has also had a deep spiritual connection for the Gwich’in. It is believed that “‘every caribou has a bit of the human heart in him; and every human has a bit of caribou heart.’” Many ancient Gwich’in songs and stories stress the importance of having a high level of respect for all animals, but the caribou is the most revered of all (“The Gwich’in of Alaska and Canada”). Their belief system also included “beliefs in animal spirits, spirit beings, bushmen (wild Aboriginal people with supernatural attributes) and the culture hero-trickster Raven” (Clark). Many of their ancient beliefs still persisted after contact with Christianity, and are still prevalent today (Krech).
The historical Gwich’in household consisted of “a pair of same-sex siblings with their nuclear families.” A local band was made up of multiple households who were all related to a single chief. Each local band worked as a unit to sustain itself, but still kept connections with other bands through intermarriage and cultural ceremonies (“The Gwich’in of Alaska and Canada”). Gatherings of several local bands would make up a regional band – the Gwich’in “were traditionally distributed in nine or ten regional bands” (Krech). Overall, a common Gwich’in language was what formed their Gwich’in identity (“The Gwich’in of Alaska and Canada”).
Gwich’in Council International. “The Gwich’in.” Gwich’in Council International. 2009. <http://www.gwichin.org/gwichin.html>.
“The Gwich’in of Alaska and Canada.” The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): A Special Report. n.d. <http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/ANWR/anwrgwichin.html>.
Krech, Shepard. "Gwich’in." Encyclopedia of World Cultures Supplement. 2002. <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458100044.html>.
Moore, Patrick. “Aborigianls: Na-dene.” The Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples. Published in Multicultural Canada. <http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/print/book/export/html/4367>.
2. Colonial experience of the culture
McFayden, Clark A. "Gwich'in." The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 13 Mar. 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2015. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/gwichin/>.
Peter-Raboff, Adeline. "Preliminary Study of the Western Gwich'in Bands." Alaska Native Knowledge Network. University of Alaska-Fairbanks, 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/ANCR/Athabascan/AdelinePeterRaboff/
Pilon, Jean-Luc. "The Gwich'in (Briefly)." Canadian Museum of History. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. <http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/nogap/ plgwiche.shtml>.
3. Contemporary developments or issues
As well as teaching Gwich’in youth the language, an another important language preservation project is found in the recording of Gwich’in place names and oral traditions. Much of this language preservation is done by universities and education groups such as the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, and University of Alaska Fairbanks, who support academic research of the Gwich’in language and oral culture.
“Gwich’in.” Yukon Native Langauge Centre. Yukon Native Language Centre. Web. 10 march, 2015 <http://www.ynlc.ca/languages/gw/gw.html>
Gwich’in Council International. Gwich’in Council International. 2010. Web. 10, march 2015. <http://www.gwichin.org/index.html>
Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. 2003. Web. 10, march, 2015. <http://www.gwichin.ca/index.html>
“Gwich’in Traditional Knowledge Projects”. Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board. GRRB. 2015. Web. 10 march, 2015. <http://www.grrb.nt.ca/traditionalknowledge.htm>
Gwich’in Tribal Council. Gwich’in Tribal Council. 2013. Web. 10 March, 2015
Lewis, M. Paul, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2015. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Eighteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version. 10 March, 2015 <http://www.ethnologue.com>
Old Crow Some of the Vuntut Gwitchin. Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. 1998-2015. Web. 10 march, 2015. <http://www.grrb.nt.ca/traditionalknowledge.htm>
Our Arctic Refuge — Gwich’in Steering Committee. Gwich’in Steering Committee. 2015. Web. 10 March, 2015. <http://ourarcticrefuge.org/>