Ruth Welsh (Sept. 29, 1931-Dec. 29, 2011), daughter of Elizabeth (Ross) and Arthur Blake, shown in this image at her family’s camp at Dootat Gwitshik. Her father operated a store here and trapped in the surrounding area. Ruth's maternal grandparents were Bella (Campbell) and Peter Ross. They died before Ruth was born. Ruth’s dad was originally from Great Britain. He died in 1935.
Dootat Gwitshik, the Blake family’s camp, is situated at the mouth of the Rat River where it flows into the Husky Channel in the Mackenzie Delta. The camp is also known as Husky River. Dootat Gwitshik is located 12 miles downstream from Fort McPherson. Ruth grew up at Dootat Gwitshik and spent much of her youth at the camp where she learned traditional bush skills and received medicine plant teachings from her mother and other Gwich’in Elders like Lucy and Charlie Rat.
Ruth received her elementary education at the All Saints School in Aklavik and the Day School in Fort McPherson. In the early 1950s, Ruth worked at the All Saints Hospital in Aklavik and later at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, B.C. She went to nursing school in Calgary, Alberta. She worked for many years as a nurse before moving to the Yukon in the 1960s to work at such jobs as a Fire Tower person and Radio Operator for Yukon Forestry. For 13 years, from the 1970s to the 1980s, Ruth worked as a receptionist and front desk worker for Yukon Tourism.
Ruth Welsh lived in Tagish, Yukon, until she passed away in 2011. As a fluent Gwich’in speaker, Ruth assisted the Yukon Native Language Centre at Yukon College as she studied Gwich’in literacy and language teaching methodology. As a Medicine Plant Specialist, Ruth conducted workshops on plants, traditional medicine, health and traditional knowledge to many Yukon and NWT communities and schools.
In the 1990s, Ruth Welsh and other members on the First Nations Health Committee of the Board of Directors worked hard to incorporate cultural health care into the design of the new Whitehorse General Hospital that was completed in 1997. The Traditional Medicine Program is one of several culturally sensitive holistic health care options that are currently being offered to patients.
Ruth Welsh sat as an Outside Member on the Supervisory Committee for Alestine Andre’s Interdisplinary (INTD) Master of Arts degree in the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. Ruth’s traditional medicine knowledge shared with Alestine was incorporated into her thesis titled Nan t'aih nakwits'inahtsìh (The Land Gives Us Strength) that focused on the medicinal use of plants to treat injuries, ailment and to maintain good health.
In the early days, when the Indian Agents and the Anglican Ministers and their wives came to the area, most times it was one of their wives who would give the people the aspirin or the liniment or other medication that they needed. Ruth said, “And we were forbidden to use our traditional medicines that had been used for so many years. We were told it was taboo. We were told it was no good. We were told it didn't work and, you know, throw it away and don't take it. But we didn't do that. It just went under cover. Everybody used it. All these years it was used without anybody knowing about it.” Ruth believed that that was why the use of traditional medicine survived. She continued, “It's really come back now, which is good. Because I see the day when, seeing how the medical system is working now, and it's not going to be long and we're going to have to depend on (traditional medicine) again."