Efforts by the Gwich’in Tribal Council to preserve its people’s history are not going unnoticed, with the GTC being named this year’s recipient of the Governor General’s award for Excellence in Community Programming on Nov. 23 for a project mapping heritage sites with the help of Elders.
Over the last 20 years, the GTC’s Department of Cultural Heritage, previously known as the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, has been working to map and name heritages sites throughout the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
Called the “Gwich’in Goonanh’kak Googwandak: The Places and Stories of the Gwich’in,” the project was borne out of a desire of Elders to preserve names from oral histories of the Gwich’in people. With the help of over 74 Gwich’in Elders and traditional land users, this has accumulated into the creation of an online atlas, as well as official recognition of Gwich’in place names.
“I have always admired the elders and their knowledge about the land and place names,” said GTC director of culture and heritage Sharon Snowshoe. “One time I was watching two elders in my office as we were trying to clarify a place name on a large wall map and it was like these two elders were right in their element and it was such as joy to watch, as they knew their land so intimately. I will always appreciate the time spent on this project, working closely with elders and recording their knowledge.”
Aside from ensuring historical place names are not lost to the depths of history, the project also helped increase awareness of the Gwich’in people’s ties to the land. During colonization over the 19th and 20th centuries, many place names for rivers, lakes, mountains and settlements fell into disuse or were renamed by colonists.
One of two projects selected for the award, which comes with a $2,500 prize, the awards will be formally presented during a virtual Canada’s History forum Nov. 27. The prize and forum are administered by Canada’s History Society.
“With this project, the Gwich’in Tribal Council’s Department of Cultural Heritage has connected past and present, giving a voice to stories that enrich our understanding of Canada,” said Janet Walker, president and CEO of Canada’s History Society.
Using the atlas, the traditional names, pronunciation, the history and usage of heritage sites can be referenced. Check out the Gwich’in Atlas here.