Alestine Andre was born in 1951 to Eliza (Sam) and Hyacinthe Andre in Aklavik, NWT.
Up to the age of six, Alestine lived on the land with her family at Khaii Luk or Travaillant Lake, Siveezhoo or Fish Lake and Dachan Choo Gehnjik or Tree River. In the early 1940s, Hyacinthe Andre established his family’s camp at the mouth of Tree River where the creek flows into the Mackenzie River. The camp is located on the south shore of the Mackenzie River about 45 miles upstream from Tsiigehtchic. The camp is also known as Tree River.
In 1958, at age seven Alestine went to the RC Mission School in Aklavik with her older siblings Robert and Addy. In 1970, after twelve years at the Grollier Hall and Akaitcho Hall residential schools, Alestine graduated from Samuel Hearne Secondary School in Inuvik. During the summer holidays, Alestine’s family which included her grandmother Julienne Andre, lived at Dachan Choo Ghnjik to fish. As well as working with fish, firewood, smokehouse wood, picking berries, and packing water, everyone at the camp learned how to harvest and prepare basic medicine plants for minor cuts and colds.
After high school Alestine worked with CBC radio in Inuvik then began to work with aboriginal organizations like COPE (now IRC) and the Mackenzie Delta Tribal Council (now Gwich’in Tribal Council). Alestine always enjoyed learning so today she has a diploma (1987) in Public Administration, a Bachelor’s degree (1994) in Anthropology and Women’s Studies, and a Master’s degree (2006) in Ethnobotany (study of plants used for medicine). Alestine has worked with the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute (GSCI) since 1994 in the capacity as Cultural Director, Executive Director and Heritage Researcher.
At the 1996 Delta Science Camp sponsored by the GSCI, Alestine was impressed with Ruth Welsh, Traditional Knowledge Instructor, as she was demonstrating the use of local plants for medicine. Alestine was excited to learn more about medicine plants so she approached Ruth to be part of her learning when she began her Master’s degree program at the University of Victoria in 2000. Ruth Welsh acted as an Outside Member on her Supervisory Committee. She was also her Gwich’in teacher and advisor and provided Alestine with traditional medicine plant knowledge used by the Gwich’in for her master’s thesis.
In 2005, Ms. Andre was awarded a Gwich’in Achievement Award by the Gwich’in Tribal Council in the career category of Gwich’in Culture. In March 2007, Ms. Andre was awarded a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the category Culture, Heritage and Spirituality at a ceremony in Edmonton. In 2012, Alestine was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.
Every August Alestine returns to her fish camp at Diighe'tr'aajil which is located a few miles downstream and across the Mackenzie River from her family’s camp at Dachan Choo Gehnjik. Alestine collects and prepares medicine plants for people who request them.