Mary was born at Pokiak Channel near Aklavik in March 1915 when everyone was going out to hunt muskrats. She was delivered by her grandmother (her father’s oldest sister). This was before the present day town of Aklavik was established, and there were only trading posts in the area. At this time the Gwich’in did not live in the Delta on a full-time basis. The early years of Mary’s life were spent around the Pokiak Channel, in Fort McPherson and at Nagwichoo tshik, the village at the mouth of the Peel River.
Mary was born in the Yukon Territory (exact location is unknown) on December 23, 1935. She was one of 11 children born to the late John and Rebecca Modeste. Her maternal grandparents were Robert George Sintenilyin and Annie G.(Martin) and her paternal grandparents were Modeste Ts’idehdi’ (Tsetetti) and Macrena. As a child, Mary recalls living on the land with her parents and maternal grandparents. She was sent to All Saints Anglican School in Aklavik at the tender age of six.
As a child, Mary travelled the land with her parents. She remembers in September they would go up the Peel River and stay at their bush camp, returning to town only for a few days at Christmas. After New Years they would travel to the mountains to hunt caribou. Spring was passed hunting muskrats in the Mackenzie Delta and after June 15th, they would return to town, visit and then in July, go to the fish camp and make dry fish for the rest of the summer.
Martha was born on April 16, 1913 in the mountains because her mother could not go to town – Fort McPherson was too far away and the closest place was Dawson. She was baptized in July and this became known as her birthday. When she was young, Martha travelled all over with her parents. They lived in the mountains and up the Peel River, at Caribou Creek, at Hungry Lake and Blackstone River.
Marka remembers travelling up the Arctic Red River near Snake River with her parents so they could hunt in the mountains when she was a child. She remembers sitting in the sleigh bundled in blankets. When she pushed aside the blanket that covered her face she saw how high they were and far down was a tiny river. The mountains were so steep that the sleigh almost travelled sideways on the slope.
As a child, Lydia was raised by her mother’s sister, Annie Vaneltsi and her husband William Vaneltsi. “All the way up almost to Mayo and half way to Dawson, all that country people travelled in those days. My aunt went everywhere these people travelled. They never travelled without me. Just like a little puppy, I followed,” recalls Lydia.
Abraham and Lucy Vaneltsi’s daughter Joanne was born in Fort McPherson on July 7th, 1939. Though many of Joanne’s siblings died of tuberculosis, they were once eleven in their entirety. When asked about her family and whether they were of the Wolf or Crow clan, Joanne remembers her grandmother telling her that they were Ichyaa (Wolf clan).
Joan spent most of her young life on the land travelling in the mountains with her parents. Later she lived and moved around in the Delta with her first husband, Philip. She and her second husband, Edward, lived in the Caribou Lake area, the Travaillant Lake area and up the Arctic Red River before settling down in Tsiigehtchic.
Jim was born at Rock River in the Yukon in 1924, but was mainly raised in the Delta around the Middle Peel. Throughout his life he has made a living by hunting, trapping and fishing. In 1928 at the age of four, Jim was sent to the Hay River mission school and remained there for three years, completing several grades.