First of all what do you suppose I feed my children? Huh? I am not going to reduce myself to going to the welfare office! I have raised all my children on caribou meat and we know nothing else, other than on rare occasions where we visit Yellowknife. I am a hunter and a trapper, I am uneducated to the standards of modern civilization but I am highly educated when it comes to our way of life! We need to do something about this and I think it is up to all of you to find a solution!!Read Janelle Nitsiza's Gonaewo: Our Way of Life
I chose to write about how recently the TŁįchǫ (Dogrib) were restricted from hunting caribou on their own land. Land that was given back to them by the Government of Canada a few years back when the TŁįchǫ became self-governed. I wrote with three unique angels, one was collecting opinions from TŁįchǫ people, the other was incorporating anecdotes about TŁįchǫ life thirdly I excluded youth from this story. I chose to write from more than one perspective because at the time many people had different opinions but there opinions didn’t really matter because the Government of the Northwest Territories (G.N.W.T) still went ahead with their decision. I gathered opinions from a variety of people who felt strongly about this issue like my grandmother (Dora Nitsiza) who felt that before the G.N.W.T went ahead with this they should have consulted the elders. I also incorporated anecdotes about the TŁįchǫ and their traditional lifestyle and how some people feel like we are losing our culture. Lastly I chose to exclude Youth from this story because in my opinion youth are often excluded from important matters. You will notice that the Youth are talked about but not one of them voiced their opinions in this story. The message I am trying to get out in this story is that the TŁįchǫ people may have had their treaty rights taken away but they are still a strong people! Masi (Thank you)!!!
“So what do you think?” asked Johnny.
“It’s our right we should be able to.” replied Joe.
“I think….” Before Philip could voice his opinion everyone was called into the meeting. The three men butted their cigarettes out one at a time, as they walked in Johnny’s wife pulled him to the side and said “ Just remember so long as the sun rises, the river flows and the land does not move we will not be restricted from our way of life.” She hugged him and then hurried to their children who were playing just to the side of the cultural centre. All the members of the TŁįchǫ Government proceeded around the table, around that there were rows and rows of TŁįchǫ Citizens sitting and getting ready to listen to what was to be said. Finally the Chairperson called the meeting to order and everyone became silent.
“I’d like to thank all those who have voiced their opinion and to those who are about to, I would just like to remind you that we are on the air so please keep it appropriate. Our issue today is the caribou hunting restriction area, as most of you know the restriction area includes three out of four Tlicho communities and we are here today to hear what the people have to say. Now would anybody on the table like to start?” asked the Chairperson. Chief Eddie didn’t waste his time to raise his arm.
“Yes Chief Eddie from Wekweeti, the floor is yours.” answered the Chairperson.
In a rude tone Chief Eddie said “This is our treaty right! The G.N.W.T had no right to take this away from us. I say we petition them!!!” Uproar of clapping began within the crowd.
“Masi Chief Eddie, now to you Chief Phillip from WhaTi.” said the Chairperson.
“Masi chairperson and masi to the people of Behchoko for hosting our annual Tlicho Assembly, I know what I am about to say may offend some of you but it needs to be said. The caribou numbers are going down!! What are we going to do to teach our children in the future? The caribou is our life, we use to use it every day, but with the help of technology it isn’t as necessary, it’s not like we have to stop hunting we just need to do less of it and in order to do less we need to obey the new law.” Only a dozen people or so started clapping but it immediately ended.
“Masi Chief Phillip is there anyone else on the table who would like to talk?” asked the Chairperson. Nobody responded.
“I take your silence as a no so now we can proceed to the public forum. The first on the list is Mrs. Lafferty.” said the Chairperson.
She was an older lady who moved slowly but who had a fast mouth. “You men sitting there, you’re supposed to protect us, you’re supposed to include us in your decisions!! Why weren’t we consulted in the first place? You are there because we put you there! How about you help us get our caribou back?” she abruptly walked away while the crowd cheered her on.
“Masi Mrs. Lafferty, next we have Mr. Nitsiza.” said the Chairperson.
Mr. Nitsiza made his way to the microphone in a graceful silent walk, a walk he learned from hunting. “Masi Mr. Speaker I just had a few questions for you men. First of all what do you suppose I feed my children? Huh? I am not going to reduce myself to going to the welfare office! I have raised all my children on caribou meat and we know nothing else, other than on rare occasions where we visit Yellowknife. I am a hunter and a trapper, I am uneducated to the standards of modern civilization but I am highly educated when it comes to our way of life! We need to do something about this and I think it is up to all of you to find a solution!!” As he walked away the crowd applauded his speech.
The day went on like this well into the late evening. Grandmothers complained of not having any hide to make their family proper TŁįchǫ attire that included parkas, jackets, moccasins etc. Mothers complained that they were unable to teach their daughters traditional skills like skinning the caribou, tanning the hide and preparing the meat to be dried. Grandfathers complained and referred to the restriction area as an obstacle for them, making it harder and more time consuming to hunt. A few fathers who depended on hunting as an income complained of the distance they had to travel. Fathers who were employed complained that they only got a few precious vacation days to hunt and sometimes they were out of luck so at times they would return with nothing because of the distance that had to be traveled.
Finally the list of names had all been crossed and what was left was the prayer but before that the Chairperson asked. “Does anyone want a last chance to speak?” The crowd looked amongst themselves but to their surprise Grand Chief Johnny raised his hand.
“Ahh, yes Grand Chief Johnny the floor is yours.” responded the Chairperson.
He cleared his throat before speaking. “My people masi for coming here today I know some of you have flown here and I know some of you have either canoed or used a motor boat here from your community, from the amount of people sitting here today I can tell that this issue concerns a lot of you. I just wanted to say that in my opinion to be a good leader you need to make good decisions for those you are leading, and to be a great leader you must hear and work with the people to find a solution to any problems like the one we are dealing with today! I sat here from sun up to sun down for three days now to listen to your concerns. I just want to let you know that legally we will not be able to hunt until the G.N.W.T has said otherwise because in chapter sixteen of the TŁįchǫ Agreement we give our rights to the Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR) department, to ban us from hunting if there is a good reason. I know that this makes a lot of you angry however I need to remind you all of something! ‘As long as the sun rises, the river flows and the land does not move we will not be restricted from our way of life.’ Chief Mohfwi said these words in nineteen twenty-one when he signed Treaty eleven on behalf of the TŁįchǫ people. My suggestion is that we go along with the GNWT because no matter what they say this is our land, by going along and giving a full effort to preserving our culture we can prove how strong we are when we come together. But it is going to take a lot of financial help so the TŁįchǫ government is going to donate money to the schools so that the Youth can have the opportunity to take part in traditional activities like Dene Hand games for the boys, and sewing for the girls. As for the hunters sitting around here the TŁįchǫ Government will give away extra gas to anyone who is hunting, however this will not be an everyday thing and you must prove that you are not wasting money by doing a community hunt so that the elders can get some meat too. We need to prove to everyone out there that we are strong people who are ready for any problem thrown at us, masi cho my people!” The crowd became loud with cheering and clapping.
The meeting ended with a prayer by a local elder named Jimmy. The crowd rose as he reached the microphone. He spoke only TŁįchǫ so it was said in TŁįchǫ. “My creator I thank you for helping us settle this matter safely. I pray that you take care of those who are traveling home tomorrow, may they return safely, in your name amen.” After he said this he went on with the Lord’s pray, Hail Mary and Glory to be, all of which are very Catholic prayers. His final word was “HO!” which means let’s go. The crowd laughed and left quickly.
Later that night a drum dance began, young and old alike danced the entire night through, with laughter and joy! People moved to the beat of the drum and hearts raced as they circled the dance floor one behind the other as if they were one in each other. Elders spectated while setting on the perimeter of the room while younger children sat on the floor watching the feet of the people go up and down. This is the true essence of the TŁįchǫ strong, humorous and understanding.