The Tetlit Gwich’in (“people of the head waters” or “in the middle people”) are among the most northerly American Indians and are one of a number of Gwich’in bands who live in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Alaska. Our traditional land use area is the Peel River watershed, and because of this, we are often referred to as the Peel River people in the anthropological and historical literature.
The Hamlet of Fort McPherson where the Tetlit Gwich’in live today, originally started out as a trading post established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1840. The original fort was established four miles upriver from the present-day community by John Bell and was called Peel River House. It was renamed shortly after being founded in honour of Murdoch McPherson, the first Chief Factor of the trading post. In 1848, due to flooding, the Old Fort was moved to Chii tsal dik, now known as Fort McPherson or Tetlit zheh in our language.
In the early years of the post, our people continued to lead a traditional way of life – living in small family groups and moving on the land, following a seasonal cycle of caribou hunting in the mountains during the winter, and fishing along the river in the summer. We also had our favourite gathering places, where we met with related families and our Aboriginal neighbours on the land. We visited the post infrequently to trade meat for goods. Over time, however, the post became an important part of our seasonal round of travel, and we entered into the fur trade and used the post as a place to gather, trade and attend church services. The Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches established missions in the community in the 1860s. Around the turn of the century many prospectors and fur trappers began to enter and use our lands and the Royal Northwest Mounted Police established a detachment in 1903. Slowly, a community grew up around the post.
On July 28, 1921, Chief Julius Salu of the Tetlit Gwich’in signed Treaty 11 in Fort McPherson with the Government of Canada. This treaty was followed seventy-one years later, on April 22, 1992 with the signing of the Gwich’in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement in Fort McPherson, an agreement between the Gwich’in, Federal Government and Government of the Northwest Territories.
In 1999, the Tetlit Gwich’in united with its local land claim organization group, the Designated Gwich’in Council, to form one governing body for its membership. The Tetlit Gwich’in Band Council has been operating as a Band government under the Indian Act for many years.
More and more this governing body, the Tetlit Gwich’in Band Council, has been taking on more responsibility on behalf of its people. The completion of self-government and land claims processes in the Beaufort Delta Area (Gwich’in and Inuvialuit) will give this governing body and its people great pride and determination in participating in its own future.