fish camp

From the moment I jumped into the boat to head my Jijuu’s fish camp, I could literally feel my mind ease and my body begin to let go of tension and stress. I can honestly say that our fish camp is my happiest place on Earth. It is where I can think my straightest and find my balance all while learning about my Gwich’in heritage and spending time with my Jijuu.

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While at fish camp, there is always work to be done. The nets have to be checked all day long, the fish need to be scaled, gutted, cleaned and cut to be dried, we need to gather the right type of wood to be burned for the fish to dry properly, fetch water from the creek, cook meals, keep the place clean and we always end our nights with a game of soccer. Some would say that the best part of fish camp is the nightly soccer game – it can get pretty crazy sometimes, especially when everyone is out on the field. It isn’t so much about the score or who’s winning, but the laughter and teasing that we all share together, especially my Jijuu who stands on the side lines coaching and laughing like it’s going out of style.

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It is a really great feeling to be up there with my family and seeing everyone working together as a team to get all of the work done. And it really fills me with so much pride to watch my Jijuu pulling fish out of the net, cutting it up and hanging it in the fish house that her father had built when she was just a child.

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I can never stress enough, how much I admire and appreciate this little woman who I call my Jijuu. She is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is the hardest worker I know. Although she is in her late 70’s, she is always working, always moving, always doing something – right from the moment she rises right until she lays her head back down to sleep. In the time it takes me to cut one fish to dry, she’s finishing off her fourth. While I’m struggling to get up the hill, she’s already pouring herself a cup of tea and lighting her cigarette. She amazes me beyond words with what she is capable of. I can only hope and pray to one day be half of the women that she is. She is my truest friend.

 – shayla snowshoe

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Grad 2017

I would like to introduce to you all… the Fort McPherson graduation class of 2017.

This class consists of eleven graduates, all from our little community of 900 people. To me, this class represents hard work, persistence and intelligence. I hope that they understand what they represent to our community; they are positive role models and scholarly characters. They are succeeding in a colonial world that they were never meant to, and that really means something. Education is the foundation of which we are expected to build our lives.

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I just wanted to take a moment to recognize their 12 years of attending school each and every day, right until they got that diploma. Congratulations, you guys… you made it. This is just the beginning. You have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for yourselves. Do not let your education stop here. Get out there and see the world, volunteer, attend university, be a part of something bigger… make your mommas proud.

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And to end off, I would like to say a huge huge huge congratulations to my little sissy, Dannika Florence.

My girl, it’s hard for me to put into words how proud you made me as I watched you walk down that aisle for your diploma. I’ve seen you grow from a little sassy girl in clothes that you’re now embarrassed of, to a sarcastic, hilarious, fire cracker of a woman. You have a fire inside you that burns strong, your love is pure and your mind is intelligent. I am honored to call you my sister and to have you by my side through this crazy life. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us. Gwiintl’oo nahtinithan shijuu.

 – shayla snowshoe

 

My Jijuu

Today is just one day shy of my Jijuu (grandmother) Mary Effie’s birthday. Tomorrow, she will be turning 78 years old. I would just like to share a little bit about my Jijuu because this beautiful woman deserves to shine bright, not only on her birthday, but every damn day of the year.

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My Jijuu is the most respectful and humble woman I know. She carries herself with dignity, grace, and resilience. She’s a hunter, a fisher, a sewer, a teacher, a mother, a Jijuu, and my best friend. She is a strong believer in God, she likes to smoke cigarettes. and she’s crazy as hell. Although my Jijuu is an elder, she’s a little bit of a daredevil. I have some crazy stories of her and I travelling on white caps to get back to our family at fish camp, or crossing the melting ice road too close to it breaking up and her going along with just about any idea that I can conjure up. One of my favorite things about her is that she is always down to come on road trips with me.
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My Jijuu has given birth to eight children, two of whom have unfortunately passed away. She lost a daughter who was only a few months old and then her youngest son who passed away twenty-five years ago at the age of nineteen. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my uncle Geejam and how even though he passed away, he is still close to her heart and binding her and I together.

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My Uncle Geejam was buried on October 19, 1991 and it just so happened that I was the first baby born on October 19, 1992. On the day that I was born, my Jijuu Christie Thompson gave me my Gwich’in name, “Gwikitch’ihkh’eh”, which means “In Return” because, as she said, I was the life given after his life was taken.

When my Jijuu talks about my Uncle Geejam, she speaks so fondly as she describes his love for the game of hockey, for his family – especially his siblings and cousins, and for her. He was a crazy guy who was always happy and everybody loved to tease. As she tells me about my Uncle, I can hear the pain in her voice as if it happened just yesterday.

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This one time, my Jijuu and I were driving the Dempster Highway on the way to our very first Moosehide Gathering in 2014. She was telling me about how my uncle would drive her wherever she wanted to go – all over the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. And then she looked at me with the sweetest look that only a Jijuu can give, and said “and now look at my Gwikich’ihkh’eh driving me around, just like my Geejam did”.

Oh my Jijuu, I hope and pray that I can drive you around for many many years to come.

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Gwiintl’oo Nahtinithan & Nidrin dagoonch’uu gwiinzii srigoojanhch’uu.

 – shayla snowshoe

Bradley; I will always remember…

I am writing this blog post as a special way to remember and acknowledge the life and journey of Bradley Charlie who passed away just a few weeks ago.

Bradley Charlie was a young, Gwich’in man from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. Bradley was so kind. He was humble. He carried himself with a calm sense of confidence. He was a son and a brother. He was a man of the Lord.

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At the young age of 18, Bradley made the courageous decision to attend the Master Commission in Dallas, Texas where he studied scripture as his eagerness to spread God’s word grew. In August of 2015, upon completion of his program at Master Commission, Bradley was presented with a traditional Gwich’in vest from the Reverends from the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and his brother Dean. The presentation ceremony took place at the Midway Lake Music Festival where the communities, as well as many of the surrounding communities, his family and many youth were present. As Bradley was presented with the vest, I stood just below him, photographing everything. I can remember taking a moment to observe, and I couldn’t help but notice how big Brad’s smile was and how he beamed with pride. He was already such a powerful man at such a young age.

Another thing that really resonated with me, was when the youth came right up on to the stage just to listen to him talk. As he spoke, his voice was so strong – exactly like how I would have imagined his late Jijii (grandfather) Chief Johnny D. Charlie would have sounded.

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As I was photographing the event, I never thought that he would be taken so soon. It was truly an honor for me to be able to photograph this milestone for Bradley and his family. One major thing that I’ve learned through his passing is that someone up there has a plan for every single one of us. We need to start living life to the fullest and love with all that we’ve got… we can never know when a person will take their last breath.

Through his journey with the Lord, Bradley has inspired so many – young and old – to follow the same path; encouraging others to live a healthy and positive lifestyle. Bradley was an amazing role model and advocate who spread the word of the Lord, not only in the North, but everywhere that he ventured to in his short life.

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I truly believe that Bradley Charlie and his story won’t be forgotten anytime soon…

I will always remember Bradley as the beautiful person that he was. Whenever we bumped into each other, we would chat about university, what was happening in our lives and the word of the Lord. Even though he was younger than me, he was so knowledgeable, respectful and so encouraging. There was a time where I was entered into a contest and I sent him a message asking for help with votes and his response was, “I got you, girl”. I will never forget that. I know in my heart that he’ll always be around, protecting us and living on through his family.

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I would just like to say Mahsi Cho to Bradley’s parents, Alfred Charlie and Marlene Snowshoe, for the permission to write about and share Bradley’s story.

 – Shayla Snowshoe

the love of photography

There are several reasons as to why I love photography, the main ones are that my camera allows me to capture and showcase everything that is of value to me, as well as special moments for my clients and for the many amazing opportunities that it has brought into my life.

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The first and foremost reason that I love photography is because it is a creative outlet that allows me to capture my family and everything that I love, while preserving my culture and my memories with my Jijuu. It is so incredible to be able to preserve my Gwich’in culture through my photography. I have made it a personal goal of mine to always carry my camera with me when I spend time with my Jijuu, because she’s always teaching me something new – from tanning a moose hide to setting a net under the ice in -40.

The second reason that I love photography is because I have the honor of being able to capture special, once in a life time moments for my clients and their families. It is a really great feeling to see a bride relive her wedding day while sifting through photographs that I took, or to look back on photographs of elders who have passed away.

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Last but not least, I love photography for the many opportunities that it has brought into my life. I have travelled throughout Canada – photographing the people, the scenery and my experiences. I’ve photographed the Moosehide Gathering in the Yukon, been showcased at the Adaka Festival and the Arctic Image Festival, as well as photographed several weddings all over Canada. On each of my adventures, I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented, kind and respectful individuals while creating memories that I will hold in my heart forever.

Photography isn’t just a hobby for me… it’s my lifestyle.

shayla

 – shayla snowshoe