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Autumn – The Hunt

The first shouts each September of “vadz’aih!” (Caribou!) at the sight of the migrating herd’s lead bulls, bring dozens of Gwich’in Athabascan village hunters clambering out of their cabins and onto their 4-wheel ATVs. The adrenalin which fires their muscles as they head off into the mountains like NASCAR racers is not merely stoked by the need to stock their freezers with meat for yet another year. Rather, the Hunt, it may be said, makes the Athabascans of Alaska’s Interior who we are; it is the foundation of our cultures, our societies, and our communities.

Indeed, the Hunt has been the center of our Athabascan economic and social activity for thousands of years. Historically, the bow and arrow were used as the main hunting tools; since European Contact in the 19th century, these have been replaced with the rifle. Also today, most hunting is carried out using the 4-wheel ATV, the flat-bottom motorboat, or the snowmobile. Yet despite these changes in technology, the significance of the Hunt in Athabascan society remains.

Our hunters are typically male, though women can and do hunt as well. Hunters try to prepare themselves for every possibility by bringing plenty of food, gasoline, matches, warm clothes, rain gear, ammunition, a tent, and so on. Being prepared for any eventuality is essential, and can mean the difference between life and death when one is hunting in the remote regions of the Interior.

Upon their return, hunters typically enter their communities like heroes returning from the warfront. Stories are told and retold of the animals taken (as well as those that escaped and that will be the quarry for another day). All of the meat is divided up among family members and friends, distributed widely around the community so that everyone may eat and share in the hunters’ success.

The Hunt is the heart and soul of our Athabascan village life. As such, there is no one prouder than the man (or woman) who returns home bearing the sustenance of their community’s life and culture.