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

Mary Thomas and hunting muskrats at Diniizhoo

Potato Creek is long way from here, the other end of this mountain, back of Rampart House. From Rampart House we went over the Ch’anchał. The wind was strong and we tied the kids to the sled and went for dzan . That’s how we went over the mountains.

At Potato Creek there used to be lots of dzan . When we travelled over the mountains, at that time we had too many kids so I went first and then came back, and then we went over the mountain all by ourselves. I am talking about when there was lots of dzan . Now there are no dzan in Van Tat . There was lots of vadzaih at that time, too. We dried meat and with it we came to Old Crow down Chyahnjik with canvas boats. When they went to the Village, they went over the mountains to Rampart House.

At that time people from Fort Yukon were in Crow Flats too: lots of people, when [there were] lots of vadzaih and dzan . … They hunted dzan with canoes under the mountain. All they carried were the skins and they carried lots. They carried canoes, too and sometimes they camped out for two days. All that time they shot dzan , and they carried big pack sacks of dzan , and dzan were a good price.

We made canvas boats with birch [frames] at the head of Potato Creek. Canvas boats had a blunt prow and that’s how we came down [ Chyahnjik ]. We stayed for awhile and then we went to Rampart House and we stayed there. The river was a long trip and a long way and when we were coming down, we shot lots of small game. That’s how we ate. They saw dinjik on the way down but we couldn’t kill it because there was no room in the boat. We had all our dry dzan skins in one big canvas boat. If we killed a dinjik , where were we going to put it ?
We got down to John’s [John Thomas]. Only he had a motor and he came all the way up Potato Creek with a canvas boat and gas. Coming down [river] he picked up all the canvas boats and brought them to Old Crow. He had a boat like what we have today [wooden scow] and he brought all the people down from Van Tat with it. I don’t know how they paid him. My uncle Ben was waiting for us. I told him I was going to pay but he said “No. This is the first time we’re going to help you. Why are you going to pay? You’re not going to pay; we will take you down.” And it rained hard and we all got wet. We set tents on the mud and camped and it was a hard time.

The Ch’ineekaii came from the ocean: they knew there were lots of vadzaih and they came down the river. They hunted and killed vadzaih and trapped dzan .

I pulled my kids around with a dog team. While [my husband] went to town, I killed lots of dzan . When he went to Rampart House for more food, all the women who stayed around [did] nothing and I took dzan skins to them. While I worked hard, they all had no food.

At Potato Creek there were big dzan . I used to stay at this lake and it went dry, no water in the lake, just bare ground. All the lakes that had big dzan went dry. We moved around and that’s the way we used to trap. When we killed vadzaih , we dried the meat.