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Gwich'in Gathering kicks off

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Monday, July 23, 2012

Fort McPherson is expected to double its population this week as members of the Gwich'in Nation from the NWT, the Yukon and Alaska converge on the hamlet.

The 2012 bi-annual Gwich'in Gathering is scheduled to run from July 22 through 28, and is the first in a string of large events in Fort McPherson, a community of nearly 800 people, this summer. The largest are the Midway Lake Music Festival, scheduled from Aug. 3 to 6, and the Gwich'in Tribal Council Annual Assembly to follow.

"It's going to be busy," said Hazel Nerysoo, mayor of Fort McPherson.

The Gwich'in Gathering has been held every two years since 1988. It was held on the advice of the late Mary Kyikavichik, an elder from Old Crow.

"She felt at that time that the Gwich'in Nation from Alaska, the Yukon and the NWT should come together and discuss Gwich'in culture and their livelihood," said Shawna Nerysoo, Gwich'in Gathering co-ordinator. "Ever since then ... it's been held every two years."

The gathering rotates between the NWT, the Yukon and Alaska. It was last held in the NWT in 2006 and last took place in Fort McPherson in 1996.

"You get to meet new people, you get to see relatives from Alaska and the Yukon," said Hazel Nerysoo.

Morning meetings will be held at Chief Julius School to discuss global warming, climate change, self-governance, the porcupine caribou herd and other topics. The afternoons will see mixed games such as a traditional 'good man, good woman' contest, and there will be community feasts and old-time dances every night at the arena.

The gatherings are a chance for people to come together, not only to strengthen their relationships but to discuss important issues that affect everyone, said Hazel Nerysoo. One particular topic that always garners lots of interest is the porcupine caribou herd - especially since the behaviour of the herd began to change, she said.

The caribou herd was first spotted near the hamlet about two weeks ago.

"It's very, very early," she said.

The first travel day for Gwich'in Gathering was scheduled for Sunday, July 22 and events were expected to begin on July 23 and wrap up on July 27. July 28 will be another travel day.

Approximately 800 people are expected to attend the gathering, but there shouldn't be any shortage of places to stay. Some will stay with friends and family, others will be billeted by those who have volunteered to share their homes. More still are expected to set up tents around the community, said Hazel Nerysoo.

People will pitch in to help each other, she said, and that's part of what the Gwich'in Gathering is all about.

"The talking and the mingling and the getting to know each other, that's all a part of it," she said. "So, it's not just the heavy stuff."

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