The area we are in is of course First Nations land. It is incredible to imagine people living in this area, contending with the extremes of weather, the constant light in the summer months, the constant dark in the dead of winter, and the horrors of the mosquitoes in July and August, and all without the modern tools and technologies that are helping us. But here they lived nomadically and hunted for many thousands of years.
These days the population of the town of Yellowknife, where we landed on Sunday evening, is mostly First Nations.
Much of the economy and many of the other travelers to and residents of Yellowknife are involved in the mining industry, especially of diamonds and, latterly, uranium. And it was noticeable in the plane in that Patty was one of only three or four women on a plane-load of 40-50 people – businessmen and miners flying in to work. While Kevin told us yesterday that an oil company was recently refused the license to frack in the Aylmer Lake area.
Going back as far as modern archeology has shown, people have lived in this area for at least 8000 years. The area is the traditional home of two Dene groups of First Nations people – the Dogribs and the Yellowknives or Yellowknife-Chipewyan.
Yesterday we visited a site called the Thanokie Narrows, where Seton camped and saw caribou, and left one of his cairns. “Thanokie” means “Sand Hill” in Yellowknife-Chipewyan, and we easily found the cairn sitting atop the hill, visible from far off. Another of the more beautiful Yellowknife-Chipewyan names of another narrows translates as “the place where the Caribou swim among the ice,” and I am reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s work on the descriptive and functional beauty of language that is so often lost to us as we live lives more and more removed from the natural world.