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1. Who are the Gwitchin? Where do they live?
The Gwitchin nation is around 22,000 years old and currently consists of approximately 9000
First Nation people. The word "Gwich'in" means in their language literally "people of the land".
This tribe have lived in parts of Northern America long before the between the United States
of America and Canada.
Up until the 1870s, the Gwitchin followed a nomadic lifestyle, continuously on the move
following seasonal trends. Nowadays, they are stationary in 15 communities in Alaska, Yukon
and North Western Territories, mainly above the Arctic Circle, due to the establishment of
forts and trading posts. Old Crow is the northernmost Yukon community, located 128 km (80
miles) north of the Arctic Circle at the confluence of the Crow and Porcupine Rivers. Old
Crow is currently home to around 400 people.
2. What is the traditional lifestyle of the Gwitchin?
The Porcupine Caribou follow a seasonal migration route which covers areas suitably close to
Old Crow. This caribou is the centre of the Gwitchin lifestyle providing it's people with meat,
crafts and hide for clothing and shoes. The Gwitchin people have a predominantly deep
respect for the caribou and all that they provide for them, to them the caribou are sacred and
they believe that years ago caribou and the Gwitchen bonded their hearts. Every part of the
caribou is used, from the skin to the bone marrow and hooves (boiled down to a jelly to make
glue, for example). Additionally, the Gwitchin are careful to only hunt males and avoid females
on their migration to breed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: considering their
dependence on the caribou, the tribe is cautious to conserve them.
The Gwitchin is very focused on the idea of a tightknit community. Caribou meat and hides
are presented as gifts to bond fellow communities and provide a friendship link between
people. Local festivals are held as per tradition in which age old conventions and skills are
passed down through generations such as skinning, goose calling and log cutting. Festivals are
also an event for the community to enjoy each other's company and the provided food, and to
take part in traditional games and sports.
3. How have the Gwitchin adapted to modern day life? Is their lifestyle sustainable?
The Gwitchin tribe is almost entirely cut off from the rest of the modern civilaiastion: Old
Crow is only accessible by small boats in summer, snow machine in winter, and allyear round
by plane. As a result of this isolation, the tribe has managed to sustain some elements of purely
traditional lifestyles. However, aspects of modern life have formed part of their own traditional
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For example, the purely traditional clothing of the Gwitchin is less common, and
jackets, jeans and trainers have become used more in recent years. Also, their economy is no
longer entirely revolved around hunting, fishing and gathering. Now there are actual salary
based jobs within the Gwitchin. Further, not all food is derived from the Caribou anymore, now
food can be imported at a great cost to the community.
Their lifestyle is sustainable to a certain extent.…read more
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ANWR), which is the main breeding grounds and migration path for the Porcupine Caribou.
There is the persistent fear that this intervention of oil companies and other modern day
threats will significantly take a toll on the caribou and the population of the herd. Further,
grizzly and polar bears, waterfowl and shorebirds, and endangered bowhead whales face the
backlash of modern developments in this Northern Territories.
Lastly, Global Warming results in the melting of snow and ice over mountainous areas.…read more