Located in the far north-west of British Columbia, the territory of the Tahltan Nation spans some 93,000sq km of un-ceded and mostly intact boreal forest, lakes, mountains and the headwaters of some of Canada’s most famous rivers, including the Mackenzie, Yukon and Stikine.
The land is rich in moose, caribou, bears, wolves, lynx and other large mammals. Rivers fed by glaciers and snowpack receive migrations of all five major Pacific salmon species- Chinook, Sockeye, Coho, Pink, Chum. They are home year-round to others fish species, including trout.
Pennie Louis and her husband Andy shared their deep knowledge about the traditional processes employed to tan moose and caribou hides. Involving de-fleshing, scraping, soaking in moose brain solution and drying, the tanning process produces beautifully soft hides that are used for clothing, footwear and drum-making.
Photo: Pennie and Andy work a caribou hide. Hannibal Rhoades.
Tsema Igharas interviewed her grandmother Grace Williams about Tahltan winter crafts including the vital sewing skills practiced by both Tahltan men and women, and tool making for hide tanning.
Photo: Tahltan scraping tools and awls, made during a workshop organised by Tsema Igharas and Christine Creyke. Hannibal Rhoades.
Vegetation monitoring sites were also established in areas affected by the huge 2018 wildfire to monitor the return of vegetation and a favoured blueberry foraging patch south of the community of Iskut.
Photo: Brie Van Dam and Stefan Milkowski observe changes at a vegetation monitoring site. Hannibal Rhoades.
Elders and community leaders discussed how the Tahltan are adapting in their territory, watching how the lands and waters are changing and re-organising their governance for climate-changed times.
For example, Tahltans are restricting the number of Chinook and other salmon they take during the run, as data shows the number of returning fish are well below healthy levels. These actions find a parallel in Skolt Sami Territory, northern Finland, where the Sami are reducing their fish take and focusing fishing efforts on species that eat young salmon, in order to restore salmon numbers along the Naatamo River.
Photo: Tahltan elder David Rattray blesses a gift from the Salmon People, caught in the traditional manner. Mika Honkalinna.
During the week delegates were joined by students from the local school district who came to sit with elders and hear about Tahltan fishing and other traditions. The importance of restoring connections between elders and youth for knowledge to flow down the generations was demonstrated in practice.
Elders shared how they too are working to restore their culture by re-learning their language, which was suppressed by Canada’s infamous residential school system. Tahltan elders are also learning how to knap obsidian for use as arrow heads, spears and knives, as their ancestors would have. They plan to pass on their skills and knowledge to the youth through practice.
Photo: Tahltan elders, youth, teachers and international delegates gather beneath Tsesk'iye Cho Kime. Mika Honkalinna.
On the penultimate day of the festival delegates were given a history of Tahltan fishing practices. The day was spent fishing in traditional and contemporary Tahltan ways, using both a long-handled dip-net and a net strung out into an eddy of the Stikine using a pine boom.
Elders accompanying the fishing shared stories of nets teeming with salmon, pulled in after just half an hour in the water at the height of the run. The salmon are why the Tahltan first settled here, says Curtis, relating the Tahltan ‘Two Sisters Meet’ origin story. As long as the Salmon People still run up the river, the Tahltan will find ways to survive and thrive on their lands and waters, he says.
Photo: A small trout brought in with the nets is released back into the river. Mika Honkalinna.
The Snowchange Archive of Northern Traditions is a comprehensive collection of local and traditional knowledge and practices, photographs, videos, and audio material from the work of Northern local and indigenous communities.
"The Snowchange Archive allows us to access stories and knowledge from other communities around the world to see how they are addressing the changes under way and find solutions. We also wish to preserve a visual tradition of the powerful ways of life in the North", says Snowchange's Tero Mustonen.
Created with an image by MikeGoad - "bull moose moose elk"