Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute launches maps of traditional place names

The Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute has gathered and recorded more than 900 traditional place names for its topographic maps and interactive atlas launching today.

'It’s like having a baby for 23 years and finally seeing it birthed' says research director

A detail from the PDF version of the Gwich'in traditional place names map. An online interactive atlas was launched Sept. 15. (Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute)

It's been 23 years in the making, and today the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute will launch a series of topographic maps featuring traditional place names in the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

The institute has collected and recorded 900 traditional place names since 1992, with the help of more than 70 elders and traditional land users.

"We're so excited that this has actually come to pass. It's like having a baby for 23 years and finally seeing it birthed!" laughs Ingrid Kritsch, research director at the cultural institute.

The institute is also launching an interactive online atlas today that includes more information about the place names.

"You can actually hear the name in Gwch'in spoken by a variety of Gwich'in elders that we worked with. You can see the translation, the oral history behind the names," says Kritsch. 

"Some records we already have photos and audio and video, but we'll be adding a lot more as we go along."

'It's a really, really important legacy'

The team from the cultural institute, along with researchers from Carleton University, worked with all four Gwich'in communities over the years to produce the 22 topographic maps.

Kritsch says it means a lot to the elders to finally see the maps come to fruition.

"Oh they're very excited about it," she says.

"Back in '92 when we started this work, it was really the elders that said to us that they wanted us to continue this work... They said 'You know we're really concerned because the names aren't being passed on and the stories are being lost.' And so they felt it was very important."

The research team also talked to hunters and traditional land users about what size map would be most useful. They chose a 1:250,000 scale, which means hunters can easily bring it out in the bush.

"What we're hoping is that people will take these maps out on the land and use them and record their own information on them... and become more familiar with the traditional place names behind, you know, the hills and mountains, and creeks, lakes and rivers," Kritsch says.

"It's a really, really important legacy I think that the Gwich'in elders have left, for not only today, but for future generations."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.