Department of Cultural Heritage, Gwich'in Tribal Council, Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories
For nearly 23 years of research (1992-2015), the Gwich’in Tribal Council Department of Cultural Heritage (formerly Gwich’in Social & Cultural Institute) has worked with more than seventy-four Gwich'in Elders and traditional land users to document place names and create an inventory of heritage sites in the Gwich'in Settlement Region of the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
This project grew out of a wish by Gwich’in Elders to protect, share, and celebrate Gwich’in place names, especially following concerns that place names and accompanying oral histories were in danger of being lost.
The Elders recognized that putting their names on maps would keep Gwich’in history and knowledge of the land alive. In order to make this information and knowledge accessible, the Department worked with community Steering Committees made up of Elders and traditional land users and other partners on a project called Gwich’in Goonanh’kak Googwandak: The Places and Stories of the Gwich’in.
The project resulted in three important outcomes: an online atlas, place name maps, and the official recognition of Gwich’in place names.
Not only has this project created an increased awareness and appreciation of the use and knowledge of the Gwich’in landscape through their traditional place names, but it also serves as an important legacy for future generations and provides inspiration for other Indigenous communities who are looking to officially recognize Indigenous place names.