Participants in the 2023 Johnny Charlie Memorial Skidoo trip travel from Curtain Mountain to Old Crow on March 17. Photo courtesy of Malaenah Alexie
Participants in the 2023 Johnny Charlie Memorial Skidoo trip travel from Curtain Mountain to Old Crow on March 17. Photo courtesy of Malaenah Alexie

By Karli Zschögner
Courtesy to Inuvik Drum

With a two-year hiatus from the pandemic, a group as young as 12 and as old as 80 years old left from Fort McPherson on a week skidoo trek across the border to Old Crow the annual Johnny D. Charlie Memorial Skidoo Trip. Twenty-Seven set off starting March 15 and arrived back a day earlier Wednesday evening coming together including three from Inuvik and from the Yukon.

“I wanted to not only pay respects to my ancestors who travelled these trails for generations but also for myself to see the land and be with our people and hunt along the way and just live the life that we’ve always lived up here as Gwich’in,” said participant Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik.

For Kyikavichik, the trip was 31 years in the making since he was in grade nine at Fort McPherson’s Chief Julius School the first year in 1992 Johnny D. Charlie started passing on his father’s annual trek through the mountains by dog sled by skidoo to keep the memory of the traditional routes. After his death, it became a cross-community annual memorial trip in 1999.

Malaenah Alexie cuts up a caribou caught near Curtain Mountain Camp. Photo courtesy Leah Vittrekwa

With one day delay due to a Dempster Highway closure, skidooers included seven under Yukon University who joined the one-way to Old Crow. Meeting the next evening at Curtain Mountain camp, the full crew head to Old Crow late morning of March 17, with arrivals beginning at 10 and 11pm.

For the three days upon arrival organizers in Old Crow served three meals a day from their community centre and events including a ball hockey tournament to bring the community and guests together.

The remaining group along with Old Crow’s Robert Kyikavichik and youth Dean Njootli set back down the Porcupine River to camp back at Curtain Mountain. Staying for the last night, Fort McPherson elder and guide Keith Colin and youth Lucas Francis successfully caught three more caribou.

A sunset overlooks the group along Porcupine River on March 16 as they make their way to Old Crow. Photo courtesy of Karli Zschögner

“Excited, happy, thankful,” said Francis describing what it means to hunt and harvest caribou. He said he doesn’t care to count, but within since turning 14, he’s caught around 20 to help feed his family and friends.

It’s his first time on the trip and route across the land he said with some of his favourite memories were setting up and sleeping in the heated canvas tents.

For 19-year-old Malaenah Alexis, it was also her first on-the-land trek to Old Crow through the memorial trip. Helping harvest one of the caribou, she said her favourite memories include the mountainous landscape, but if it wasn’t for this trip, she would not have met family members she didn’t know she had in Old Crow.

Participants of the Johnny D Charlie Memorial Skidoo trip get ready to leave Old Crow on March 20 after spending three days in the community. Photo courtesy of Karli Zschögner

“Shocking how much people knew my dad, my grandmother, it was kind of overwhelming,” she said.

Volunteering at their Curtain Mountain camp stays to show the youngest travellers on setting rabbit snares, she said she thinks it’s important more youth across the region come on these trips for the opportunity for developing meaningful connections but also learn survival skills.

“It’s important for this younger generation…to be learning, to be coming up here because I see that there wasn’t as much youth to come as the recent years, and like, nobody’s going to know these trails anymore, because elders are going.”

Fort McPherson organizer Phyllis Andre said originally there were plans for over 50 skidoos with partnership with Beaufort Delta Education Council to bring youth from Aklavik and Fort McPherson but cancelled.

Funders included Teetl’it Zheh Jordan’s Principal and Band Council, Inuvik Justice Committee, and Vuntut Gwich’in Government.

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