Diniizhoo Diniizhoo, a Gwich’in gathering place

Activities at Diniizhoo

– Games:
• twirling caribou leg bone
• Nilaiizruk - stick pull
• catching caribou hoof on hide
• Neeveedègooya’

Activities at Diniizhoo

– Gathering:
• people gathered May to fall time
• berry picking
• drying meat & fish, making pemmican
• tanning moose and caribou hides
• embroidering with porcupine quills
• sewing clothing
• dancing
• getting water from lake or nan chu’
gahtsii (hole in the ground)
• marriages
• giving gifts and sharing

Mary KassiMary Kassi related what her Elders told her about Diniizhoo

“Tsii’in’ Ddhàa, Diniizhòo they call it but I don’t know the name in English. They only call it Diniizhòo [or] Tsii’in’ Ddhàa.

They came from all over. From … Arctic Village [Alaska], Fort McPherson [Northwest Territories], and Arctic Red [now Tsiigehtchic Northwest Territories] … and Vuntut Gwich’in people. All them, [Fort Yukon people] too, from Rampart House. Long ago, before we were born, in those days they all gathered here, they said.

All around here caribou skin tents were set up, they said. … There were lots of people. They came here and worked for their meat. In July, …they prepared all their meat, pemmican, dried meat, even dried fish; everything, even bone grease. They put that all together and fed everybody. Then they played, they said.

[They made games with] everything, drums, long ago games, [from] anything, they made games. … They said they even danced: maybe they jigged. The round bone on the caribou leg, they twirled it. Nilaiizruk too, this is the stick pull: two people pull with it. … This was a favorite game, they said. Then a round white hide, on it they put caribou hoofs which they tried to catch … That’s the kind of games they played.

Then they … tied something, maybe your hat, kerchief, anything. Whoever owns it, … they say, “What are you going to do for this?” They say [the owner must] do it, it doesn’t matter what, even if it’s bad, that game [Neeveede’gooya’].

They came here only in the summer and fall time, before it got cold. In the summer, they picked berries all around here. In the evening they played games, right on top here, for everything, ducks.

Yes, [they knew they were coming here beforehand]. From all over, from far away they travelled. The leader, what we call Chief now, he went among them. In early morning he had a big meeting with all the people and told them, “We are going to do this,” and he was to be obeyed. They came here with dog packs, they said. …

They came in May, in the spring time when it was melting, on little snow, with dogs and caribou leg toboggans. …. They dried meat, and played games in July. … They tanned moose and caribou hides. They made lots of things. They put porcupine quills [decoration] on tanned skin dresses, nice ones. They also tanned caribou hide with the fur left on for blankets. Around the edges, they sewed jitsoo hah nagankai’ [thin tanned caribou hide]. They piled it, they said … and the best would win. Sometimes they just shared, gave it to people [as a] present, good caribou skin. Sometimes a big moose skin, they’re easy to tan, even the white ones. They made lots of caribou skin mukluks, caribou mitts, animal hats, that kind of thing. They made a big pile afterward, when they’re going to leave, and gave it to each other.

They really made use of this land. All the people who lived long ago, before our parents, their grandmothers, they all came here. All over this land. Arctic Red [Tsiigehtchic], in 1938 my father went there for meat. One old woman about one hundred years old said, “that the man from Old Crow, he’s to come see me.” He went to her and she took his hand, she’s poor, one hundred years old. “My grandchild that Diniizhòo, is it still there?”, she asked him. … “Grandmother, it’s still there; it won’t go anywhere. Behind there is my country. It’s always there. We always see it,” he told her. The poor old lady just yelled out crying. He just about cried himself, it was so good..

When we were young, we had good times on [Diniizhòo]. They even got married there, they said. There are lots of stories of this place. It’s valuable, this mountain. Everybody knows about it. …

Yes, my grandmothers all told me about [this place]. Long ago, all my grandmothers, grandfather Shitsii Ch’eeghwal, [my grandfather Ch’eeghwal] his children, all his relatives—you know some of them died not long ago. They all travelled around here, they all told me stories. Anits’u’, beautiful caribou skin dresses, beaded and sewn with porcupine quills. They came with heavy packs from Ft. Yukon. Anjithitii ik [anorak parka], you know how Eskimos made them, they did too. They looked beautiful! New shoes, porcupine quill shoes, they dressed up and danced, they said. They had a good time.

[They stayed here] long, maybe all summer, until fall time when it froze up. Then they all left [for] … a mountain where it’s good for caribou. They moved around, long ago people, that’s how they lived. That’s what they said about them.

It’s lucky that when I was a child, my parents and grandmothers told lots of stories in front of me. They said we have to take care of the land, I know. … I always wanted to talk about it. This past fall, people were gathered in the hall and I talked about it so now it’s known.

[Along here were round skin tents, all along here]. …They got water [from the lake below], down in the timber, nan chu’ gahtsii: they made a hole in the ground to get water. Down there, those rocks, they put raw meat under the rocks where it’s cold. That’s what that is, down there. Way down there, there’s a bigger rock piles. Sometimes there’s two piles. They pile rocks on the meat. That’s what they did a long time ago. That’s how they kept their meat fresh.”

(Mary Kassi at Diniizhòo, 1 August 2000 VG2000-4-12:006-135 Gwich’in)