Life on The Land

This Tłı̨chǫ  landscape is known intimately to Tłı̨chǫ  Elders. Trails, which are used year-round, provide access to a vast harvesting region, and link thousands of place names, each with a narrative of some form, sometimes many, inextricably bound to the place. Names and narratives convey knowledge, and in this way Tłı̨chǫ  culture is tied directly to the landscape. Travel across the Tłı̨chǫ landscape can be easily and clearly described by reference to these names, and indeed travel narratives often appear as no more than long lists of place names. 

While toponyms mark topographic features, the Tłı̨chǫ  also employ a separate naming system to distinguish the broader physiographic regions. Though there is some overlap with the physiographic units recognized by western geographers, the Tłı̨chǫ  system is more refined, and consequently more complex. 

The Tłı̨chǫ  landscape is infused with the presence of innumerable entities, or “powers”, both benevolent and malevolent. In traveling across the landscape, one must constantly mitigate the impact of personal actions by appeasing these entities with votive offerings, and by observing strict rules of behavior. For example, at each new water body encountered en route, offerings are left. In the Tłı̨chǫ  vernacular, it is said that these places, and the entities inhabiting them, are being “paid”. The offerings may be anything of value (in modern times this had typically included tobacco, matches, coins, ammunition), or simply, a garland of birch branches.These are thrown into the water (or onto the ice in winter), and in return the votary may ask to be granted good weather, safe traveling conditions and abundant food resources. 

At all sacred sites, and indeed at many important cultural sites, offerings are also left. Places inhabitied by malevolent entities (called weyèedii  or “animal-beings”) are regarded as dangerous, and consequently, always avoided. Through dreaming and the acquisition of ı̨k’ǫǫ̀  or “medicine”, sometimes “power,” “knowledge,” or “luck”, one prepares to deal with the world, and the powers inhabiting it. These traditional beliefs and practices have been syncretized with the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholicism. 
The ı̨k’ǫǫ̀  trail is central to the Tłı̨chǫ  homeland. Two rivers, the Marian (Gòlootì deè)  and the Camsell (Nôdìihatì) , form the trail, and with a network of inter-connecting trails, provide access to a Tłı̨chǫ  land use area encompassing some 295,000 square kilometres. In post contact times, the trail was used to access trading posts on Great Slave Lake (Tìdeè) , Great Bear Lake (Sahtì) , and the Mackenzie River (Dehcho)  at the mouth of Bear River (Sahtìdeè).



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