The Story that was in Danger of Being Left Behind: Restorying Tłįchǫ Culture with Land Claims and Self-government A Conversation with John B. Zoe

An Excerpt

Restorying is not a new concept, but more like trying to describe the emerging recognition of a reality. That’s what it means to me. Physically, people didn’t leave, but there were times when people were led to believe that their story ended and they were to emerge a new person, as if from a cocoon. However, this transformation never happened.
There is a big gap in the story, an intrusion, an injection of assimilative thought, the residential experience. Many children were sent to these institutions, returning with less of self, and more of less identity. It was the beginning stage for the reluctant elders of the future, the beginning of the story that was in danger of being left behind.

It was a good thing that many traditional elders were still left, the youth in their time, mentored by Monfwi, the future tellers, such as the late elder, Alexis Arrowmaker. Alexis once told me a story,
When the boats came in the summer, many children were to be sent to the mission school. I wanted to go, but I was living under the roof of Chief Monfwi who had other ideas. Without telling him, I took my bedroll and went to the barge and sat there waiting for it to leave. Other people saw me sitting there and it was not long before Monfwi heard about me. He came and told me, that he will teach me everything I needed to know, and so I followed him home.

Chief Monfwi signed Treaty 11 in 1921, and we still recite his words, “As long as the sun rises, the river flows, and the land does not move, we would not be restricted from our way of life.” Monfwi’s intention was for people to retell the story and bring people back to remembering their past. Monfwi laid the foundation for us to build this new house, reminding us how we’re going to interact with the rest of the world. But there must be rules within that house, rules that we call a constitution, laying out how we treat each other, who is going to lead us, and how we’re going to live together. The land claim gave us the tools to build that foundation. When the concept of modern governance came, there was already a school of thought, a basic structure, with both leading to the same place. It’s still fragile in its own way and there is fragility in almost everything, but there was strength in numbers, that’s how people survived.

When I was looking at the map of our land, I didn’t think too much about this because people would always be here. Yes, they’re here but not many remember to tell the story anymore or even the beginning of that story. There are some that tell the stories, but they are few in numbers. It just means that we were strong in numbers before, and to be consistent in our way of thinking, it should be revived. People can get splintered in many directions and we need to be constantly aware of overloading the house with so much foreign material that we may not even recognize the foundation anymore.

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