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

John Joe Kaye tells of Van Tat in hard times:

When there were no dzan long ago, I’ll talk about that time. … 1934-35, there was no dzan in Van Tat and I stayed with my father at Troochòonjik. Day and night people were going up to the head waters. …At LaPierre House, there a little flat there, and that’s where they were going for tsèe at that time when there no dzan. When it was hard times people would come here to Van Tat for small animals. There were lots of rabbits and ducks, too. That’s why people would come here to Van Tat. Fish, they made … fish traps and put those in the water and fished. That is the way our Elders made their living long ago. From not that long ago, we also did that ourselves. Now in recent times, people don’t go out to Van Tat. We come up with boats sometimes. Really, we don’t know how it will be in the future. In ten years, twenty years, from now, people may not come back here to Van Tat.

John Joe Kaye’s stories of Van Tat

It’s like this: that’s why from the beginning of time, they took the kids around [on the land]. It would be a big help. Long ago, our fathers told us all this. They went with us children on this land; we travelled all around. That’s how we know the land. They used to kill lots of vadzaih around here [ Van Tat ], … [and] lots of dzan . My father, my mother, too, my grandmother stayed,… even she killed lots of dzan . That’s how many dzan there were.

In 1946, when I first got married, I used to stay around here. At that time, there were lots of dzan . Me and my wife travelled all over around here. [We shot a hundred] dzan . Then we went home. … The next day, we went back again … and there was the same amount of dzan . That’s how many dzan there were. After that, in 1949, ‘48, I stayed with my in-laws. Even around that place, there were any dzan . There were also ots of people. Even with that many people, some got a thousand, a thousand five hundred. That’s how many dzan there were in those days. …

But now there’s not very many dzan around here. Now, there’s still lots of ice [on the lakes] but in different places, we saw only about four dzan . I wonder how it will be in the future. In the future, how our children are going to be, nobody knows.

From there people would go in all different directions to the different lakes. There were lots of people. In May on hard ice, they would [visit]. They would have a good time. Way over there is a long lake. … In 1930 Peter Moses sold a little stuff here. He would go down through that valley to Shingle Point for trade goods. From here he would go to Fort Yukon … [to get trade goods]. That’s how hard our elders long ago worked so that people could live well.