People of the Caribou

We are one of the most northerly Indigenous peoples on the North American continent, living at the northwestern limits of the boreal forest. Only the Inuit live further north. We are part of a larger family of Indigenous people known as Athapaskans, which include peoples such as the Slavey, Dogrib, Han and Tutchone but our language and way of life is distinct.

At the time of contact, we lived in nine different bands with lands stretching from the interior of Alaska through the Yukon and into the Mackenzie Valley. We still maintain close cultural and family ties with our Gwich'in relatives living in 15 communities in Alaska, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.

Traditionally, our lands extended from the mountain headwaters of the Peel and Arctic Red Rivers in the south, to the Mackenzie Delta in the north, from the Anderson River in the east, to the Richardson Mountains in the west.

The Gwich'in life and culture have traditionally been based on the Porcupine Caribou herd, the people's main source of food, tools, and clothing. Fish and other animals supplement their diet. The Gwich'in practiced a nomadic lifestyle until the 1870's, when fur traders came into the area to establish forts and trading posts that later became settlements.

Many families still maintain summer and winter camps outside our communities. Hunting, fishing and trapping remain important both culturally and economically, with caribou, moose and whitefish being staples of our diet.

We would like to extend our thanks to the Gwich’in Tribal Council Department of Cultural Heritage for graciously providing the above text and encourage you to visit their website to learn more about our people.

Other resources include:

Gwadàl’ Zheii: Belongings from the Land

Explore the rich cultural heritage of the Gwich’in through artifacts, historic and contemporary photographs, and oral histories and stories told by Elders.

The Gwich’in Place Name and Story Atlas

An interactive online Atlas that invites visitors to explore the culture, history, traditional knowledge and land use of the Gwich’in through Gwich’in place names, resulting from more than two decades of collaboration between the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute, Gwich’in Elders and traditional land users living in the Gwich’in Settlement Region communities of Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic.

Mapping the Way

Mapping the Way celebrates and raises awareness about Yukon First Nation land claims and self-government. This initiative is a non-partisan partnership between the 11 Self-Governing Yukon First Nations, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the governments of Yukon and Canada who work together to implement land claims and self-government in Yukon.

Historical Timeline

Explore major events in Gwich'in history from 1700-1900 in this interactive historical timeline from the Gwich'in Tribal Council.