|Gwichʼin family outside home|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
other Athabaskan peoples
The Gwich’in (sometimes rendered as Kutchin or Gwitchin), literally "one who dwells" or "resident of [a region]", are a First Nations/Alaska Native people who live in the northwestern part of North America mostly above the Arctic Circle. The Gwichʼin were also known by the French name of Loucheux ("squinters") in historical documents, as well as the Tukudh used by Anglican missionaries. Gwich’in often self-reference using the term "Dinjii Zhuu" instead of Gwich’in. Dinjii Zhuu literally translates as "Small People" but figuratively it refers to 'Indians', not just Gwich’in.
The Gwich’in are well known for the construction of snowshoes, birchbark canoes, the two way sled, and intricate and ornate beadwork. Traditional caribou skin clothing and porcupine quill sewing are also held in high regard among Gwich'in. Today the economy is mostly a mix of hunting, fishing, and seasonal wage paying employment.
Many Gwichʼin speak their indigenous Gwich’in language, which is in the Athabaskan language family. There are 2 main dialects of Gwich’in; eastern and western, which are delineated roughly at the United States and Canadian border. Each village has unique dialectical differences, idioms, and expressions that are favored as well. The Old Crow people in the northern Yukon Territory have approximately the same dialect as those bands living in Venetie and Arctic Village, Alaska. According to the UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Gwich’in is now a "severely endangered" language with fewer than 150 fluent speakers in Alaska and another 250 in northwest Canada.
Gwich’in tribes and clans
There are many different bands or tribes of Gwich’in including, but not limited to: Deenduu, Draanjik, Di'haii, Gwichyaa, K'iitl'it, Neetsaii or Neets’it, Ehdiitat, Danzhit Hanlaii, Teetl'it, and Vuntut or ’"Vantee"’.
In addition there are three major clan variations across Gwich’in Country which were used in antiquity. There are two primary clans and one that has a lower/secondary status. The first clan are the "Nantsaii", which literally translates as "First on the land", the second clan are the "Chits'yaa" which translates as "The helpers" (second on the land). The last clan is called the "Tenjeraatsaii", which translates as "In the middle" or "independents". This last clan is reserved for people who marry within their own clan, which is considered incestual, and in a lesser degree for those who are the children of people who are outside of the clan system. In ancient times this would also refer to the children of "Naa'in", people who were expelled from the tribe due to committing a crime. It also applied to the children of mothers who simply fell outside of the clan system. In other times, prior to 1900, being a Tenjeraatsaii automatically placed a Gwich’in at the third lowest rung of the social ladder and were to some degree ostracized. The second lowest rung was reserved for war-captured slaves. The lowest social status was that of a banished "Naa'in" or bushman. The clan system is no longer well known or utilized among the Gwich'in.
Location and Population
- Inuvik, Northwest Territories (largest of the four Gwich'in communities in the Gwich'in Settlement Area (GSA), Inuvialuit (predominately Uummarmiut), Nihtat Gwich’in, English is the main language spoken, though schools teach and a handful of local people still speak Inuvialuktun, and Gwich’in)
- Aklavik, Northwest Territories (Ehdiitat Gwich’in)
- Tetlit Zheh, Northwest Territories (formerly Fort McPherson) (Tetlit Gwich’in)
- Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories (formerly Arctic Red River) (aka Gwichya Gwich’in)
- Old Crow, Yukon (Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation)
- Beaver, Alaska (Gwichyaa Gwich'in)
- Circle, Alaska (Danzhit Hanlaii Gwich'in)
- Fort Yukon, Alaska (Gwichyaa Gwich’in) 
- Chalkyitsik, Alaska (Draanjik Gwich’in)
- Birch Creek, Alaska (Deenduu Gwich’in)
- Arctic Village, Alaska (Di'haii and Neetsaii Gwich’in)
- Venetie, Alaska (Di'haii and Neetsaii Gwich’in)
The Gwich’in have a strong oral tradition of storytelling that has only recently begun to be written in the modern orthography. Gwich’in folk stories include the Vazaagiitsak cycle (literally, "His Younger Brother Became Snagged"), which focuses on the comical adventures of a Gwich’in misfit who, among other things, battles lice on a giant's head, plays the fool to the cunning fox, and eats the scab from his own anus unknowingly. Gwich’in comedies often contain bawdy humor. Other major characters from the Gwich’in oral tradition include: Googhwaii, Ool Ti', Tł'oo Thal, K'aiheenjik, K'iizhazhal, and Shaanyaati'.
There are numerous folk tales about prehistoric times that all begin with the phrase "Deenaadai'", which translates roughly as "In the ancient days". This is usually followed with the admission that this was "when all of the people could talk to the animals, and all of the animals could speak with the people". These stories are often parables, which suggest a proper protocol, or code of behavior for Gwich’in. Equality, generosity, hard work, kindness, mercy, cooperation for mutual success, and just revenge are often the themes of stories such as: Tsyaa Too Oozhrii Gwizhit (The Boy In The Moon), Zhoh Ts'à Nahtryaa (The Wolf and the Wolverine), Vadzaih Luk Hàa (The Caribou and the Fish).
The Gwich’in historically had a religious tradition similar to that described as animism. The way of viewing the world was strongly steeped in a natural mysticism. Magical, and mystical, knowledge to traditional Gwich’in is considered natural and not requiring belief by anyone for its inherent truth. Communication with animals for mutual benefit among the Gwich’in is widely acknowledged. Traditionally the Gwich’in had no concept of "K'eegwaadhat", or God. Everything in the world: air, stone, water, fire, plant, or animal, possesses spirit or a life-force. Time, mortality, and space are often manipulated according to traditional Gwich’in religion. Common spiritual foes of the Gwich’in shaman in ancient times, and who were considered to be especially powerful as spiritual people, were the Inupiat of the Kobuk river valley, and the Cree Indians of Canada. This division has since been mended however, with little conflict in modern times. Great distance and isolation did not hinder their communication or mutual animosity according to Gwich’in oral tradition. A common example of low level Gwich’in power is the Gwich’in hunter who has been known to dream of an animal in a specific place; upon going to this place the animal will be there waiting for the hunter. Among the Gwich’in this is considered somewhat common. Important figures, in recent times, who represented traditional belief structures are: Johnny and Sarah Frank, Shahnyaati', and Ch'eegwalti'.
Traditionally the Gwich’in afterlife consisted of a country where the flora and fauna were plentiful. Even the flowers were thought to sing in the afterlife. The eternal life was reached by emptying oneself of all possessions mental, emotional, physical, historical and spiritual. Failing to behave appropriately in a system similar to karma was commonly considered the main hindrance to people's attainment of an afterlife. Positive deeds could empty oneself in preparation for death. When people die, they face a series of tests that they must pass in order to attain admittance into the afterlife; otherwise they are stuck on earth to possibly be reborn again. If a person has any attachment, possibly only negative attachment, to the qualities of their personal life he or she will not pass the tests. Only individuals themselves can determine if they are ready to move on. The Gwich’in did not believe in any spiritual intermediaries such as priests. Every individual is responsible for their own spiritual enlightenment, and spiritual interpretation of experiences. "Dinjii Dazhan" (magical humans or shamans) were merely considered humans that were exceptionally gifted and thereby powerful in some aspect of life. They were held in high regard and, in some cases, were greatly feared. Contemporary belief structures have changed Gwich’in society however.
The introduction of Christianity in the 1840s throughout Gwich’in territory produced spiritual changes that are still widely in effect today. Widespread conversion to Christianity, specifically Episcopalianism and Catholicism is widely recognized among the Gwich’in. Notable figures in the missionary movement among the Gwich’in are Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, Archdeacon Alexander Hunter Murray, Deacon William Loola, and Deacon Albert Tritt. The Traditional Chief, an honorary and lifetime title, of one Gwich’in village is also an Episcopal priest: the Rev. Traditional Chief Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village. Chief Gilbert is also recognized as the 2nd Traditional Chief of all of the Athabascan tribes in Interior Alaska through the non-profit Tanana Chiefs Conference.
The Takudh Bible is a translation of the entire King James Bible into Gwich’in. The Takudh Bible is in a century old orthography that is not very accurate, and thus hard to read. In the 1960s Richard Mueller designed a new orthography for Gwich’in, which has now become standard.
On 4 April 1975 Canada Post issued 'Ceremonial Dress' designed by Georges Beaupré, based on a painting by Lewis Parker (artist) of a ceremonial costume of the Kutchin tribe /Gwich'in people. The 8¢ stamps are perforated 12.5 and were printed by Ashton-Potter Limited.
Caribou is traditionally a major component of their diet. Many Gwichʼin people are dependent on the Porcupine caribou which herd calves on the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Gwichʼin people have been very active in protesting and lobbying against the possibility of oil drilling in ANWR, due to fears that oil drilling will deplete the population of the Porcupine Caribou herd which they rely on for nutritional and cultural needs. Gwich’in have also actively protested the development of oil in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and a proposed land trade from the United States Wildlife Refuge system and Doyon Inc..
- Alestine Andre (Linguist, Language activist)
- Clarence Alexander (Fort Yukon Chief)
- Robert Arthur Alexie (Author and Fort McPherson Chief)
- Allen Benjamin (Old Crow Fiddler)
- Rev. Ellen Bruce (Episcopal/Anglican priest)
- Charlie Peter Charlie (Chief of Old Crow- 1950's-60's)
- Johnny Charlie (Chief of Fort McPherson)
- Googhwaii (Historical War Chief)
- Shirley Firth (Olympic skier)
- Johnny Frank (Chief, Storyteller, shaman, co-founder of Venetie)
- Sarah Frank (Medicine woman, Storyteller)
- Harold Frost Sr. (Old Crow Fiddler)
- John Fredson (Teacher, Co-founder of Venetie, Founder Venetie Reservation)
- Lillian Garnett (Language teacher, activist)
- Belle Herbert (Historian)
- Rev. Trimble Gilbert (Traditional Chief)
- Sarah James (Environmental Activist)
- Edith Josie (Journalist)
- Kathy Sikorski (Scholar, Linguist at Alaska Native Language Center)
- Joe Linklater (Old Crow Chief)
- Esias Loola (Fort Yukon Chief)
- Norma Kassi (Old Crow Chief, Environmental Activist)
- Richard Martin (Storyteller)
- Richard Nerysoo (Chief)
- Charlie Peter (Fort Yukon Fiddler)
- Dr. Katherine Peter (Linguist, Language Activist, Teacher)
- Rev. David Salmon (Traditional Chief)
- Bill Stevens (Fort Yukon Fiddler)
- Shahnyaati' (Historical Chief)
- Rev. Albert Tritt (Episcopal/Anglican Priest)
- Jonathon Solomon (Fort Yukon Traditional Chief)
- Barry Wallis (Tribal Administrator)
- Velma Wallis (Author)
- Paul Williams Sr. (Beaver Traditional Chief)
- "Gwich'in Council International." 2010. Retrieved 10 Oct 2012.
- Canada Post stamp
- Andre, Alestine, and Alan Fehr. Gwich’in Ethnobotany: Plants Used by the Gwich’in for Food, Medicine, Shelter and Tools. Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T.: Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-896337-04-X
- Balikci, Asen. Vunta Kutchin Social Change: A Study of the People of the Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Ottawa, Ont: Northern Co-ordination and Research Centre, Dept. of Northern Affairs and National Resources, 1963.
- Bass, Rick. Caribou Rising: Defending the Porcupine Herd, Gwich'in Culture, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2004.
- Clarkson, Peter and Leigh, Tamara. Gwindoo Nanh Kak Geenjit Gwich’in Ginjik, More Gwich’in Words About the Land. Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board, 2001. ISBN 0-9682642-1-2
- Duncan, Kate C. and Carney, Eunice. A Special Gift: The Kutchin Beadwork Tradition, University of Alaska Press, 1991. ISBN 0912006889
- Firth, William G. Gwich’in Topical Dictionary: Gwichyah and Teetł’it Gwich’in Dialect. Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, Teetł’it Zheh, NT, 2009.
- Gilbert, Matthew. 2007. "Farewell, Sweet Ice - Hunters Feel the Heat in Gwich’in Country". The Nation. 284, no. 18: 26.
- Herbert, Belle. Shandaa, In My Lifetime. Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Press, 1982. ISBN 0-912006-30-7
- Heine, Michael K. Gwichya Gwich’in Googwandak: The History and Stories of the Gwichya Gwich’in ; As Told by the Elders of Tsiigehtchic. Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T.: Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-896337-05-8
- Kirkby, W. W. The Kutchin or Loucheux Indians. [London: Seeley], 1863.
- Leechman, Douglas. The Vanta Kutchin. 1954.
- McKennan, Robert A. The Chandalar Kutchin. Montreal and New York: Arctic Institute of North America, 1965.
- Mishler, Craig. The Crooked Stovepipe: Athapaskan Fiddle Music and Square Dancing in Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
- Mishler, Craig, ed. Neerihiinjìk: We Traveled from Place to Place: the Gwich’in Stories of Johnny and Sarah Frank. 2nd ed. Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, 2001.
- Mishler, Craig, and William Simeone, eds. Tanana and Chandalar: the Alaska Field Journals of Robert A. McKennan. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2006.
- Morlan, Richard E. The Cadzow Lake Site (MjVi-1): A Multi-Component Historic Kutchin Camp. Mercury series. Ottawa: Archaeological Survey of Canada, National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada, 1972.
- Nelson, Richard K. Hunters of the Northern Forest: Designs for Survival Among the Alaskan Kutchin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.
- O'Brien, Thomas A. Gwich'in Athabascan Implements: History, Manufacture, and Usage According to Reverend David Salmon, University of Alaska Press, Nov.1 2011. ISBN 978-1602231443
- Osgood, Cornelius. Contributions to the Ethnography of the Kutchin. New Haven: Yale University Publications in Anthropology No. 14, 1936. Reprinted by the Human Relations Area Files Press, 1970.
- Rogers, Thomas J. Physical Activities of the Kutchin Athabaskan Indians of Interior Alaska and Northern Canada. 1978.
- Slobodin, Richard. Band Organization of the Peel River Kutchin. Ottawa: Dept. of Northern Affairs and National Resources, 1962.
- Thompson, Judy, and Ingrid Kritsch. Yeenoo Dài' K'è'tr'ijilkai' Ganagwaandaii = Long Ago Sewing We Will Remember : the Story of the Gwich’in Traditional Caribou Skin Clothing Project. Mercury series. Gatineau, Québec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2005. ISBN 0-660-19508-9
- Vyvyan, Clara. The Ladies, The Gwich'in, and the Rat: Travels on the Athabasca, Mackenzie, Rat, Porcupine, and Yukon Rivers in 1926, University of Alberta Press, May 1, 1998. ISBN 0888643020
- Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women. An Alaskan Legend Of Betrayal, Courage And Survival, [Harper Collins], 1993
- Wallis, Velma. Raising Ourselves: A Gwich'in Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River, [Epicenter Press], Oct.1 2002. ISBN 978-0970849304
- Gwichʼin Council International
- Vuntut Gwitchin web site (Yukon)
- Gwichʼin Tribal Council web site (Northwest Territories)
- Gwichʼin Social and Cultural Institute
- Gwichʼin Renewable Resource Board
- Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in
- Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments
- Anthropology and the ANWR drilling controversy
- Gwich’in Steering Committee
- "Loucheux". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.