Gerry Kisoun remembers being a young child when his grandmother took the reins of her dog team and travelled from Aklavik to Inuvik.
It was near the end of October in 1956 and the air had a serious bite to it, as she rushed toward the tent Kisoun lived in, where his mother was in labour.
“A few days later, when things settled down, granny and auntie Emma went to Aklavik,” Kisoun says, retelling the story. “One morning they hooked up their dog teams and mushed their teams across the Delta to Aklavik.”
Hearing these stories helped prepare Kisoun for his own journeys and at 12 years old, he bought a dog team of his own and travelled throughout the Beaufort Delta.
“You’re not going to find too many people [in] this day and age doing things like I did,” he says. “It’s hard to even find a dog team anymore.”
The story about his grandmother was one of many that Kisoun has relayed through a new podcast—offering a contemporary way for Kisoun and other Gwich’in and Inuvialuit Elders in the Delta to carry on the tradition of storytelling.
The idea for the podcast started with a Facebook page created at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, called Caremongering Inuvik, where locals could ask for or offer help to others in their community. Inuvik resident Jonathon Michel started the group after taking a page from other southern communities who did something similar.
“I first read about Caremongering in Toronto. There were about 35 different [Caremongering] pages in Canada already,” says Michel. “Each had its own slight variation of how it was done. I thought it was a unique way to thank and contribute to your community during a very uncertain time.”
The page soon progressed into an entertainment hub, where musicians posted videos of themselves playing from home, each using the hashtag #NWTLive. Michel and friend Mike Lee also put the call out for Elders to share their stories through the channel. A handful of people offered to join in, so Michel passed the mic and let them discuss what was important to them.
“Some people had something very clear to share with myself or a group of young people,” says Michel. “I felt very privileged to be hearing that from them, and it was very exciting to share that with others.”
Among the storytellers is Winston Moses, who told tales of living off the land during the 1950s and ’60s. Throughout his hour-long podcast episode, Moses speaks of his day-to-day life as well as his experiences hunting and trapping animals. He stresses the fact that no part of the animal went to waste—a lesson he says more of today’s generation should take to heart.
“I wanted to teach people about what happened in the past, to teach them how life was and show them what happened before, so it can keep on happening,” says Moses. “They should know if you carry on with how it had once been and take care of the land and the animals, we’d be alright and it could be like the way it was before.”
Another Elder, Lillian Elias, chose to speak about an experience she lived through that’s similar to what people are going through today. In the 1940s, Elias said the territory was beset by a measles outbreak and many had to self-isolate to curb the spread.
Elias remembers being a child when people stopped by to share news about those who had gotten sick. However, they wouldn’t often stop to lament over it.
“As the Elders used to say… we have no control over things like that,” she says.
While each story is unique, Michel says the Elders share a similar message about carrying on with traditional values. Moses, Kisoun, and Elias say they want to spark hope among listeners, bringing the podcast back full circle to why Caremongering Inuvik began in the first place.
“I think it will benefit not only the ones that are able to view it with the computers they have in this day and age, but let’s say 15 to 25 years from now, an educator may find this story floating around… and can share it with others,” says Kisoun.
And thanks to funding from the Gwich'in Tribal Council, Town of Inuvik and the Inuvialuit Communications Society, Michel says there may be more stories ahead in the coming months. Until then, anyone can check out the podcast series through #NWTLive on Facebook.