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"You have to live it": pedagogy and literacy with teetł'it gwich'in

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Loovers, Jan Peter Laurens





This thesis concerns the Gwich’in Dene of Northern Canada and the land they inhabit. Based upon fifteen months of ethnographic fieldwork (December 2005 – March 2007, April 2008), I elaborate on personal experiences with Gwich’in pedagogy on the land and in the Teetł'it Gwich'in community of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, Canada. These experiences have included travelling, hunting, trapping, fishing, cooking, cutting wood, building cabins, digging graves, searching for a disappearing elder, attending meetings and feasts, living in a Gwich’in household, visiting, storytelling, and making trails. I further discuss historical and political processes that have taken place outside and, more specifically, in the North. I attend to the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade and British explorers, to Anglican and Roman Christian missionaries, to previous anthropologists, to Government initiatives concerning trapping and mineral exploitation, and to the Gwich’in Tribal Council. Finally, I examine the role of literacy in Gwich’in lies, both historically and in the present day. I expand on the work of Archdeacon Robert McDonald and Gwich’in women in transcribing the Bible into the Gwich’in language. The Gwich’in emphasise the importance of this Bible for language revitalisation and making sense in life. I show that Gwich’in have been actively involved in many of these processes and have either challenged or incorporated them. There remains, however, a consistency that underlies Gwich’in understandings in life. I find the source of this consistency in the connection between pedagogy, history, and literacy. I argue outsiders and Gwich’in have been reading the land quite differently, and that this has subsequently influenced historical narratives, policy-making, co-management arrangements, and travelling on the land. These differences are also brought forth in reading and writing texts. This has become clear in publications written about the Gwich’in that deny or dismiss Gwich’in pedagogy. I have taken a different standpoint, starting with the premise ‘you have to live it’.

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