In the 1950’s there were still tribes of Native Americans around the Great Slave Lake living a hunter gatherer lifestyle.
On our Yellowknife trip one of the most amazing stops we made was at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center.
The Heritage Center is a large heritage museum located right in the middle of Yellowknife. When we went to the Center we basically stumbled on to it while were exploring Yellowknife’s downtown area.
The Museum is so amazing we ended up spending most of our day there.
The Museum is free, and a must see for any Yellowknife tourist.
In the modern and well maintained museum you will find histories of the Royal Canadian Mounties, Aviation in the Arctic, Mining in the Northwest Territories and Native American exhibits.
The exhibit that caught my wonder was a video of an oral history taken by a historian depicting a woman’s one year journey as a child in the 1950’s with her family. The woman was part of a Nomatic Tribe of hunter gatherers that lived in the Great Slave Lake area. The woman story was shown on a video screen that depicted the route these modern day nomads took over a one year period to follow the best game hunting, berry picking and fishing. On their yearly trek this band of men, women and children traveled over a traditional trek of hundred of miles thru the Arctic wilderness.
In her oral description the woman explained that her family group including her extended family and their seven pack dogs. It describe how they would walk to numerous traditional areas to gather their food and at the end of their trek would build a Moose skin boat and navigate down the dangerous Mackenzie River to their main fishing grounds on the Great Slave Lake.
In a 30 minute documentary a group of Native American adventures from the Shotah Dene Indian Tribe recreated the building of a Moose skin boat the woman had described and floated it from the traditional hunting grounds down the treacherous rapids of the Mackenzie river to the Great Slave lake. This is the link to the historical mooseskin boat recreation that was done in 1982.
Yellowknife and the Grate Slave Lake area is an amazing historical experience. Within our lives the people of this area have lived as they did thousands of years ago. Going to the Heritage Center helped us to grasp the amazing fact that this area is the outpost of civilization in the Arctic.
We travel to see new things, to grasp new ideas and to learn about ourselves and the people that wonder this green water covered rock, we call earth, with us. For Charlene and I this trip to the Arctic was magical because it exaggerated how far, as a society of man, we have come and also what a small distance we have traveled.
In Yellowknife life is simpler.
The food in Yellowknife makes a good metaphor for this wild land: it is a simple lake fish caught that day and pan fried and a simple salad that had to travel a thousand miles to be on our table.
The people that walk the streets of Yellowknife are miners with PhD’s in engineering that fly hundreds of miles to mine diamonds in the Arctic wilderness. Native American men women and children who are trying to cling to a hunter gathered tradition in the face of a modern world. The children of men & women who only a generation ago made their living trapping and prospecting in one of the most un-inhabitable environment on the planet are now merchants and computer techs building modern Yellowknife. Aviators flying float planes, still take off from the Great Slave Lake everyday and fly into the vast unknown of the Northwest Territory every day to take the modern explores into the Canadian Arctic, one of the last frontiers.
A lot of our friends and even our kids often wonder what stimulates us to travel? Part of the answer is the people and experiences keep us amazed. A trip to the Arctic will amaze you.
On this trip we talked with dozens of people we heard stories of courage and wonder that makes our lives richer.
I want to end this article with one story and one thought.
Sitting in the Nova Motel’s bar Charlene and I met a 26 year old Native American woman who had grown up on the far side of the Great Slave Lake in a Native Village. She had come to the big city of Yellowknife to seek her fortune as a Carpenter. With a mix of excitement and sadness she told us the story of her father, a trapper, and how one day when she was a child he had trapped a wolverine. The trap was a small trap, for fox, and had only clamped shut on the wolverines jaw. When the young girl and her father approached the animal it went into a frenzy and ripped its jaw away from the trap and charged the young girl. Her father having to shoot the wolverine.
The thing that struck me about the woman story was the wonder and sadness she showed in her telling of the story. She knew the encounter was magical and that by coming to the big city she was loosing something.
We all make decisions that take us further from, or closer to happiness, for the woman she wants the big city life but I sensed she was sad to have lost the wonder of living a life where magic, like wolverines, can still be seen.
Hey Geezers, when’s the last time you did something you’d never done before?
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