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Online And On-The-Land: Keeping Tłıchǫ Traditions Strong

Colourful moosehide beaded pouches in the NWT

Online And On-The-Land: Keeping Tłıchǫ Traditions Strong

The Tłıchǫ people of the Northwest Territories have thrived for centuries, relying on their intimate knowledge of the land, the animals and the seasons on their vast and stunning traditional territory. The Tłıchǫ story can be found in the landscape. “The only way to know the story is to go to the land,” says Tłıchǫ elder and educator John B. Zoe. “There is land, and the stories stored in the landscape.”

Today, the Tłıchǫ are a self-governing Dene First Nation that comprises some 39,000 square kilometers north of Great Slave Lake to Great Bear Lake, with 3,000 members in 4 communities: Behchokǫ, Whatı, Gamètı, and Wekweètı. Many Tłıchǫ continue to live their traditional lifestyle centered on harvesting wild animals. They keep their culture alive through oral stories and knowledge passed down through the centuries, including through their beautiful arts and crafts.

A woman works with an animal hide

It’s from the close ties to the land that renowned Tłıchǫ artists draw not only their inspiration, but their materials. Artisans use traditionally tanned moose hide to craft moccasins, jackets and vests, to name just a few of the stunning creations. Carvers etch intricate animal designs into moose and caribou antlers or bone. Jewellery-makers create colourful earrings from porcupine quills. “The beading signifies the landscape, and is interwoven with the hides of the animals,” says Zoe. “When you put it on, you can feel and carry those stories with you.” The attention to detail and techniques required to create these handcrafted treasures have been taught from one generation to the next, preserving vital cultural practices—while allowing for innovative and modern adaptations along the way. 

A person holds a handcrafted hide and beaded pouch in the NWT

For the Tłıchǫ people, having an eye on the future with their roots firmly planted in their ancestral ways is not a new concept. In the early 1900's, as the settlers started to come north, bringing with them their institutions and people, the great Chief Jimmy Bruneau recognized that for his people to prosper they needed to walk in two worlds. He encouraged the young people to pursue an education while also keeping their traditions strong. When a person can carry the knowledge of two worlds, they become strong like two people. 

In keeping with the spirit of Chief Bruneau’s sage advice, the Tłıchǫ people decided to embrace the idea of using today’s technology as a means of ensuring their culture can both flourish and be shared with the world. This is how The Online Store was born: the online store provides a single avenue for artists and artisans in any community to sell their works of arts to the rest of the world, on their own terms. 

“The website promotes the Tłıchǫ way of life,” says Giselle Marion, Director of Client Services with the Tłıchǫ Government. “our goal is to discover, preserve, recreate and celebrate the cultural heritage of the North and the Tłıchǫ Nation in particular.”

A pair of intricately beaded moccasins in the NWT

In Fall 2020, you will have the opportunity to see original hand-crafted products on the Tłıchǫ Online Store in person, when the Tłıchǫ Government opens a physical storefront in the community of Behchokǫ. The Tłıchǫ Online Store will also be part of Behchokǫ’s new Tourism Centre, located in the largest Indigenous community in the Northwest Territories, rich in traditions, and culture. The store is an hour’s drive northwest of Yellowknife.

Click here to watch the story of the Tlicho Nation.

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