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Chapter 3: traditional knowledge interviews & Chief Julius School, Fort McPherson

It's time to get into the busiest week of the trip.

On Sunday, September 25th, I made a quick trip to the airport to pick up Kristi, the Heritage Specialist at the Gwich'in Tribal Council (GTC) Department of Culture and Heritage. Kristi and her boss Sharon Snowshoe are leading the traditional knowledge portion of the divii project (the other half of the divii project is my camera research). She and I scheduled our trips to sync up so we could participate in each others work, and deeper understand the full picture of braiding science and traditional knowledge as it relates to sheep. I've been working in communication with Kristi for over a year now, so it was awesome to finally meet her and learn from her.

On Monday, September 26th we departed Inuvik for Fort McPherson at 7:30am. The dark, muddy travel along the Dempster Highway and across the Mackenzie River took about three hours.

Waiting at the Mackenzie River ferry crossing

Once we arrived, I dropped Kristi off at the GTC office and then headed to Chief Julius School. There, I met up with Tracy, a Wildlife Biologist (ungulate specialist) from the NWT Government. Tracy is originally from Inuvik and she's an expert on Caribou, Moose, Muskox, and Dall's sheep. Not only is she super knowledgeable about wildlife and local career opportunities, but she is also fantastic at science communication and interacting with kids. It was such a pleasure and asset to have her join in on the sessions! We did three, 60-minute session at the school:

  • 11:00am-12:00pm Grade 4/5

  • 1:00pm-2:00pm Grade 10-12

  • 2:00pm-3:00pm Grade 5/6

The sessions followed the same format I outlined in my previous blog, and they were simply awesome! The kids were super engaged and asking great questions as well as sharing their own stories. Again, I can't thank the staff enough for welcoming us into the schools and being such wonderful hosts.

Senior students gathered around a Caribou hide

After leaving the school, I figured my day couldn't get any better. Then, I experienced the beginning of the highlight of the entire trip: meeting May.

Kristi & Sharon had helped me arrange to stay the night with a billet in community, and I was paired up with a wonderful Elder named May. When I arrived in the early evening after the school sessions, she had already prepared a moose roast with potatoes and carrots, baked bannock with butter, a special spaghetti, and a desert of her own hand-picked blueberries & cranberries (served with ice cream and more bannock).

The wholesome meal, that reminded me so much of home, would have been enough to forever remember the evening. What really made it so special though, was sitting with May by her woodstove, with a streaming cup of fresh Labrador tea (brewed with special river water), listening to her stories. She shared about her children, her life being raised in the bush, stories of her father, and what she keeps up to these days as a woman in her late 70's, still very active on the land.

I'm including some photos from my last fieldwork trip here, to showcase the plants I've referred to in this writing:

Later in the evening, Kristi invited me to join her and her team to sit in on a traditional knowledge interview with another McPherson Elder. This experience topped off my night. The man had a deep, deep understanding of the land and the animals that inhabit it. I felt so privalleged and fortunate to get to hear his stories first hand. His knowledge of sheep gave me much to think about as I move forward with my research. Though my project focuses on scientific methods, it's important to let community and traditional knowledge guide the research questions, so that they are relevant and useful to the people who depend on the sheep. I truly feel my work will be enriched from sitting in on this interview.

After the interview, I headed back to May's and of course she had an evening snack of nakal (yellowberries) with cream ready for me. We chatted briefly before it was time to call it a night. As I tucked in to sleep, the sky delivered its promised first snowfall of the season. I slept quietly, peacefully.

The first snowfall of the year in McPherson

On the morning of September 27th, I enjoyed eggs, bannock, and strips of dried moose fat before having to head out on the snowy, wet Dempster Highway to Tsiigehtchic. It wasn't long before I got a flat tire (of course), and with no where safe to change it (plus a truck absolutely CAKED in mud), I just topped it up with the handy DEWALT travel compressor and limped back to McPherson. Lucky enough, there was a young man at a local shop able to take a look at the tire and put a patch on it.

Culprit of the tire issues

By the time these events transpired, it was too late to get back to Tsiigehtchic and the road conditions were deteriorating fast. I decided it was safest to cancel the sessions, which was extremely disappointing, but I'm sure I'll get back there on my next trip to make up for it.

This cancellation did allow me to listen in on another traditional knowledge interview of Kristi's, with a very friendly Elder. The conversation was rich with story and teachings. I have a lot to reflect on from these interviews, and I hope to be able to tie these experiences into the deep threads of my work over the coming year.

By the late afternoon, the snow had stopped and we decided to make a run for Inuvik. After a long, wet, muddy drive on our freshly patched tire, we arrived safe without incident. We finished off the journey with some incredible local whitefish tacos at a local eatery (Alestine's).

Alestine's. Photo taken August 2021 on my last visit - it was much snowier this time!

I dropped Kristi off at her hotel and then headed over to the office, where I began a late night of unpacking, organizing, and repacking all my supplies for our adventures in Aklavik the next day.

This is where the "main event" commences. Thanks for reading this far & stay tuned!


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