Jean and I were lucky enough to recently attend a week-long trip to a Délı̨nę traditional area on the northern end of Great Bear Lake, which the people of Délı̨nę wanted to reclaim. To boot it was above the Arctic Circle and it was just before the Fort Good Hope Treaty days celebration. Whew. Eschia, take it easy!
You’re wondering what reclaim means. I did too. Well back in 1974 an unborn baby and three people, one shooter and two victims, died from gunshot wounds at McGill Bay. To this day, nobody really knows exactly what happened.
There was a camp of close to 100 people there at the time because it is a prime hunting and fishing area. Great Bear Lake is known for trout, but McGill Bay is where you go for white fish. Woohoo!
So, Délı̨nę people have not used the area since, which is a period of 47 years. And they had been taking community people to different sites for the last several years; to the Parks for a few years, then near Terra mines, and this year they went to McGill Bay.
One hundred seventy-eight people came to McGill Bay in five charter planes and 23 boats and they camped in 53 tents. They got two caribou, three moose and many fish. And they intend to keep going back.
The band supplied things like gas, groceries and tents. They also had young people set up the camp and take it down, chop wood, deliver water and act as bear sentries. Jean and I were well taken care of and it was great to see everyone helping each other out and sharing.
When we went across the bay to the site where the people had died, it was very emotional. People who had been there in 1974 identified where things happened and where people’s tents had been set up. Many of them were there for the first time in 47 years.
The men put up a 12-foot high cross that can be seen from a long way off. There was a powerful ceremony performed by a Délı̨nę man, after which several people led prayers. Group pictures were taken in front of the cross.
Representatives from the families of the two victims and the wrongdoer’s (shooter’s) family spoke. It was evident they were thankful for this healing event and that so many people from the community – one third of Délı̨nę – had come to support them.
And not only community people showed their support. A huge eagle circled overhead during the ceremony. Totally awesome.
And get this. While we were at the site, a huge wind came up back at camp. People could hear the wind before it struck; it was like a motor coming and it caused tents to bend over and portable toilets and tarps to go flying.
Someone said, “It’s like the wind came to sweep the bad energy, sorrow, and anguish away!”
And it was in fact like that. Why? Well, the wind died down enough for us to safely come back to camp, then it came back up and blew ferociously all night. It knocked a few tents down as well as some tarps that were extra cover for the tents.
Going to the Bahamas
Different things were done every day, such as making dry fish and dry meat, berry picking and working on the traditional names project. One day, someone said we’re going to the Bahamas. I said “say, what?” The guy said, “Wait and see.”
Several boats loaded about half of the camp up, for sure almost everybody under the age of 25 came, and we rode about 30 minutes to a beach.
Everybody piled out and many adults set up lawn chairs. Soon, we saw guys carrying out supplies, including a box with a big hose inside it. I asked what the hose was for and someone said, “they’re going to blow something up.”
I thought, “Blow something up?!”
Then three people carried a generator to shore. Next thing I knew, the generator was fired up and used to pump up a huge plastic water slide and pool. The kids had a great time sliding down into the pool filled with water and squirting each other with the hose.
The older kids played volleyball on the beach and in the water. It was awesome. Suddenly, the adults started cooking wieners, hamburgers, smokies and marshmallows and the kids went yippee, hooray, wicked.
Everybody had an awesome time. They could have been at McNiven Beach or somewhere in the south…like the Bahamas, so they nicknamed it Bahama Beach.
Overall, what we witnessed all week was incredible and we were so impressed at how the community came together to grieve and support one another. They cooked meals and there were lots of visiting, storytelling and singing at the camp, which reminded me of how it used to be at one time.
Chief Leeroy Andre is a visionary who brought his community together for a very important event.