“Meaningful existence means a lot to the people of Old Crow.” These words were spoken by my mother, then age 16, to Justice Thomas Berger who had travelled to Old Crow in 1975 to hear from my community during the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. She went on, “The people of Old Crow still live off the land. Some traditions have been forgotten, but our life is still based on the life of all the others before us. We would like our children and our grandchildren to experience the simple, clean way of life that we have already experienced. These are my reasons for not wanting a pipeline to go through.”
Forty years later, my mother is now graciously Sitsuu (grandmother) and her statement means more to me now as a father. One of the things I am left with from her words is how essential mobility through space and time is to the Gwich’in way of life. This essential mobility not only includes the carrying on and passing down of tradition to our children, but also includes our physical movement out on the land as our ancestors did before us. Mobility and the freedom of movement are at the foundation of our meaningful existence. My mother’s words also impress upon me an understanding that our lives are bound up with the lives of others, and as such, our meaningful existence as Gwich’in is a collective one that gives shape to the responsibilities to those living beings around us.