Bobbi Jo Greenland-Morgan, president of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said Gwich’in are known as caribou people.
“Caribou migrate. There’s a big main herd, some scatter, some slow down,” she said. “I’d like us to be that main herd, because you know what happens to those that scatter or slow down… you end up in a deep freeze.”
She was speaking at the Inuvik celebration for the 25th anniversary of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement on April 22 at the Midnight Sun Complex. Similar events took place in all the Gwich’in communities last week.
The event brought dignitaries, people involved in the original land claim agreement and modern leaders together.
“I want us to really stay united,” said Greenland-Morgan. “Sometimes… we scatter, (but) I want us to not leave (anyone) behind or not turn the other way. I want the main herd being the main leaders to help us get back together.”
Jordan Peterson, vice-president of the GTC, said sometimes people don’t acknowledge the issues they face, but the GTC leadership want to deal with those issues head on.
He wants to ensure all Gwich’in people have a voice.
Peterson delved into the question of identity with a reference to a cultural training course he attended with Sarah and Freddie Jerome three years ago.
“(Sarah Jerome) threw a question at me that I probably ask myself at least once a week,” said Peterson. “And it was, what does it mean to be proud to be Gwich’in?”
At 19, Peterson left Inuvik to work in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, where he found there were a lot of stereotypes about aboriginal people.
“I wasn’t very honoured or felt privileged to be a Gwich’in man or Gwich’in person because of those stereotypes,” he said.
“When she asked me that question it flipped the conversation on me and allowed me to start asking myself what that really means, and not only to ask myself, but to try to surround myself with as many elders and knowledge holders about what that question means to them.”
He explained that the teachings he received growing up might have been different from other Gwich’in, for example, in terms of how best to skin a caribou and in other practical matters, but the question of self-identity is universal.
“That question has changed my life,” said Peterson, emphasizing the importance of people understanding their identity.
Alfred Moses, Inuvik-Boot Lake MLA, said it took a lot of leadership and sacrifice to achieve the 1992 land claim agreement.
“The sacrifice our leaders have made to get us to this day and beyond into the future could not have been done without the support of everybody here,” and all Gwich’in, he said.
Willard Hagen, former president of GTC and instrumental in the land claim agreement, thanked the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation for its assistance to the Gwich’in people.
“We probably would have never been as successful and had a claim that quickly if we didn’t have the full support of our Inuvialuit neighbours,” he said. “The Beaufort Delta was really one people with us pushing it forward.”