Resurgence/Guernica: Caribou People

The land was a wilderness of severe beauty, the Gwich’in response to it remarkably complex and resilient.

This was an opportunity not to be missed: convey the first-hand experience of Gwich’in, People of the Caribou, with climate change.

In April 2009, Project Word took up an invitation to visit Arctic Village, at the foot of the Brooks Range in northeast Alaska, part of a larger Athabaskan-speaking territory stretching in to Canada. Along with a photographer, Nicolas Villaume, the Project Word director camped out on a hunt with Gwich’in hunters Charlie Swaney and Jimmy John (who fed us the caribou they took with clean shots, after brief, silent prayers). After the hunt we talked with Swaney, John, and their fellow villagers, piecing together an essay for the British-based Resurgence, a photo essay for Guernica, and other stories in the pipeline. The land was a wilderness of severe beauty, the Gwich’in response to it remarkably complex and resilient. But the effects of permafrost were wreaking havoc on a 5,000-year-old cultural tradition, whose survival, upon reflection, is more important than it would appear.

Gwich'in hunter Jimmy John of Arctic Village, Alaska, scans the horizon for caribou. Photo by Nicolas Villaume, 2009.Gwich'in hunter Jimmy John of Arctic Village, Alaska, scans the horizon for caribou. Photo by Nicolas Villaume, 2009.

Wed, 02/24/2010 - 10:09am