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

Neil McDonald’s story about hunting muskrats in Van Tat during times of scarcity

[Neil McDonald told this story in English] Yes, sometimes they had a hard time, you know… A long time ago, when they went south in the fall, they dried fish and meat. When there was no game, they had to rush back to Crow Flats for muskrats. The way they hunted muskrats in the wintertime: I guess they had bone chisels. All along the shore of the lake, they had camps. … by the rat runways back to the lake. You open that place up and they put a snare. When they fish they use that net… made out of roots or babiche. As soon as a little stick in front moved, like something touched the stick ,… they pulled it up. So, they got quite a few that way.

In the olden days, the people used to fish on Crow River with fish traps and they got enough fish, dry fish and they freeze it up. Then when the cold weather came, they moved south for caribou and for moose. And there [were] times when there were no caribou. They had to come back. They would be running short on food and they had to come back from the south to Crow Flats. There’s lots of times some of the people were starving, starving to death. …

Then when the people, those that are left, got to Crow Flats and with the ice chisel, bone chisel, they used to walk around the edge of the lake and tap the ice. Where [there was a] hollow sound, that meant that’s where the rat comes out to go onto the lake, to their houses to feed. When they find that, they open it, then they put, sort of a scoop net in. When the rat gets in that scoop, they dip it out and that’s how the Old Crow people used to live, right up to today.

Crow Flats is the mainstay of the people in Old Crow. Now today, the people in Old Crow get most of their fur from Crow Flats: that is [musk]rat skins. That is the reason why the first time the oil people wanted this Crow Flats, there was a meeting here. Only one man spoke about Old Crow, Joe Kaye and what he said was to explain why the people depended on Old Crow Flats. The white man, they got banks in buildings. The Indians got no banks; Crow Flats is their bank. That’s what Joe Kaye said and a lot of people could have spoke, [but] nobody spoke. Today the people want that. Old Crow, all the Old Crow [Flats], after all, we’ll still own all the Old Crow [Flats] after land settlement. That’s what the people want.