Legends IX: Gwich'in Legends

Project Cultural Advisor, Alestine Andre with Gwich'in Elder, Mary Kend.

Project Cultural Advisor, Alestine Andre with Gwich'in Elder, Mary Kend.

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The foundational stories of the Gwich'in are a window into the lives of a people who tamed the harsh Arctic climate and landscape from Alaska to the Mackenzie delta. They are tales of medicine power and heroic characters. CBC Radio's Legends Project compiles traditional oral stories, legends and histories of Canada's Inuit and First Nations, gathered in communities across the country.


The Gwich'in Legends were originally broadcast on October 26, 2009. 


The Gwich'in are the most northerly Aboriginal peoples on this continent. They live at the northwestern limits of the boreal forest. They are part of a larger family of Aboriginal people known as Athapaskans. At the time of contact with Euro-Canadians just over 200 years ago, the Gwich'in lived as hunters and gatherers in nine different bands with lands stretching from the interior of Alaska through the Yukon and into the Northwest Territories (Mackenzie Valley). In Canada's Northwest Territories, the Gwich'in live primarily now in the communities of Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic and number about 3300. Although most Gwich'in live in communities today, many families still maintain camps outside their communities and hunting, fishing and trapping remain important both culturally and economically. A rich oral history and storytelling tradition has been passed down through the generations, but the Gwich'in culture and language are at risk from outside pressures.  The Gwich'in language is one of the most endangered of the Aboriginal languages in the NWT and legends are no longer told on a regular basis.


Eunice Mitchell preparing bannock near the Peel Canyon during the 1996 Teetl'it Gwich'in Place Names Project. Photo credit: Ingrid Kritsch, GSCI.

The CBC Legends Project Team partnered with the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute(GSCI) for the ninth legacy production. This partnership brought us to the Gwich'in Settlement area in the Northwest Territories and allowed us to meet and record five elders: Elizabeth Greenland (Inuvik), Mary Kendi (93 years old, Aklavik), Annie Norbert (Tsiigehtchic), Gabe Andre (Tsiigehtchic), and Eunice Mitchell (Fort McPherson). After these recordings were translated and transcribed by our language experts at GSCI, five stories were selected and then scripted for our radio drama productions. We returned to Inuvik in February 2009 to record these stories using more than 20 bilingual actors who filed through the basement studios at CBC North Radio bureau. These completed productions will compliment GSCI's extensive efforts to document, promote, and protect the culture, language, and stories. The CDs of these bilingual productions will be available for Gwich'in language teachers in the north and beyond. We hope you enjoy the bawdy humour from this proud, charismatic northern nation.

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