Van Tat Vuntut Gwich’in, ‘People of the Lakes,’ derive their name from Van Tat

Ellen Bruce’s story about trapping at Van Tat:

Ah, my grandchildren, we really came through hard times. After New Years, they moved to those mountains [and] dried meat. … in January, February and March. Then it was Easter, after that, so they moved to Van Tat with dog teams. The people took their stuff ahead, then they came back again the next day. Finally, some of them, their camps were a long ways away. Us, we camped three nights before we got to our campsite. All that is hard work. We trapped dzan and then on June 15th, they finished everything. Then they all made canvas boats. They paddled down the long river; there was lots of mosquitoes. When the wind blew, we stopped and landed the boats. It was really nice, but it was bad [too]. In the end they landed here and cooked and danced, really nice! We came down slowly but we never thought of it that way. … They did this [the same, year after year]. How many times, my dirty clothes, I was going to wash in a big tub [so] I hauled water. I wonder where my strength is now? Now, I should just sit in a chair but I still work for myself.

Alfred Charlie tells of the long history at Black Fox Creek

What I know, what I hear, I’ll tell you about that. You want to learn everything, that’s why you’re taking the elders around here. It’s really good that’s being done. It’s for our children and our grandchildren in the future. They will hear this and they’ll use it. That’s why when you tell me to come to places like this, I obey you. People would not come around here. Me, I know a little about this place so I will sit here with you.

You see the houses here? A long time ago, a man named John Tizya made a place here. He raised his family. Finally his children were married. They all stayed with him. So really this little place has been used by one family from long ago. …

John Tizya really was an elder. I remember him when I was a child. He raised his children here. They lived here in the winter and trapped. They would go way back through Pete’s [Lord] country over to Dzan Ehłai ’. All the way back, where they call Dzan Ehłai ’ they trapped for chihthee and neegoo . They really lived well in winter. In the summer and the fall, they made fish traps here at Blackfox. Then in the fall the vadzaih came back [and] passed by here. They killed vadzaih too. So then they did that during the winter.

Then in the spring, there’s a big lake located on the river bank across there called Sheihtsoondii. Way back there … there’s a lake. Down to Pete’s country, too, they trapped and hunted dzan around there. Really right to underneath the mountain where they call Pelly K’oo, all round there. … Then after that Peterson came here from Herschel Island. He married [Peter Moses’] daughter Alice. … He taught his children to live in the bush well. …

Across this river, Cadzow had arrived at Rampart House. They met long afterwards. Neegoo pelts were a good price. They sold for lots so he asked the people to get him live neegoo , so they did that for him. …[A man named] John Niliikakti’ took two neegoo zràii to him. He killed two neegoo zràii so Cadzow called him John “Blackfox.” He lived around here with the Tizyas. This river is named after him [Blackfox], Neegoo Zràiinjik. John Blackfox and John Tizya lived here together. This river takes their name, John Niliikakti’ name. So really long ago, the Vuntut Gwich’in around here, when they used to live without the whiteman, they’re from that time: John Tizya, John Niliikakti’. …

That story is long. Then, who would know? Around Old Crow, not one person knows. Andrew Tizya was raised around here, Johnny Ross too. Even they don’t know this kind of big story about around here. But me, Peter Moses told me stories about how people lived around here. That’s why I come here now and that’s what I talk about. I never saw it, that’s what I mean.

Across those mountains there, back there, through Neegoo Zràiinjik and way back there by the mountains, Ch’izin had a tthał. People really made use of it. There are stories about all of them. On all those mountains across there, there were tthał. Not one tthał – when they talked about them, they’re not all the same.