In the Northwest Territories and much of Yukon, the name Neil Colin is synonymous with the land, with traditional knowledge, and storytelling.

The Tetlit Gwich'in elder was known as ‘the Mouth of the Peel' for his stories and work as a radio host with CBQM radio in Fort McPherson, a town of about 800 on the Peel River, just upstream from the Mackenzie Delta.

A few years ago, that voice went silent when he was diagnosed with dementia.

His decline was in some ways typical; in others, uniquely northern.

It began with forgetting. Then he started wandering away from home, even hitching rides, sometimes winding up as far as 200 kilometres away in Inuvik or Dawson City, until the message got out on community radio: don't pick him up.

Neil Colin at Avens

Neil Colin, a Tetlit Gwich'in elder from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., was a radio broadcaster known throughout the region as 'the Mouth of the Peel.' (CBC)

His daughter Marilyn began hearing stories from her mother, Neil's wife, Elizabeth.

"She used to say she was worried,” Marilyn recalls. "Not worried… scared. She would find the water taps on. And the wood stove just packed tight with wood. And if he's cooking? She had to just keep an eye on him.”

Then the outbursts started.

Neil would sometimes wake family members up in the middle of the night confused, yelling and swearing.   

After months of dealing with unpredictable and sometimes dangerous behaviour, Elizabeth made the decision to move him to the only dementia facility in the N.W.T.: Aven Manor in Yellowknife, 900 kilometres to the south.   

Marilyn Colin

Marilyn Colin, Neil's daughter, remembers what her mother went through when her dad's mind first began to slip. 'She would find the water taps on. And the wood stove just packed tight with wood.'

"A lot of people were angry at her for sending him there,” Marilyn says. "They don't know that he had dementia. They were all saying, when are you going to bring him back?”

The move would prove to be an adjustment for all of them.

"One time,” Marilyn remember, "he was just crying… he wants to go home. As soon as I hung up, I phoned my mother. I was just crying to my mom. It was very hard for me to see him there.”

Marilyn says with time things got easier.  

Her father is now accepting his new surroundings. Occasionally, like at a special mock radio show held at the centre this summer, the entertainer in him still comes out and he performs as he once did. 

Even though he's forgotten many things, the one thing he remembers is how to be Neil Colin.