The Peel is life: A Gwich’in elder on his connection with the land

For thousands of years, Gwich’in people in northwestern Canada have lived off the abundant natural resources of the Peel Watershed. They have depended on the migration of the Porcupine Caribou, the fish and fresh water from seven pure rivers, and the rich history traced back through generations. “People of the headwaters” is the English translation of the Teetl’it Gwich’in, who today live in Fort McPherson, in the Mackenzie Delta of the Northwest Territories. They are standing alongside CPAWS Yukon, the Yukon Conservation Society and three Yukon First Nations to protect the Peel from industrial development.

In this letter, Fred William Koe, a Teetl’it Gwich’in Elder, shares his thoughts on development and his connection to the Peel…

Here in the Mackenzie Delta, we have clean water from the Peel Watershed and we have muskrats, beavers, mink, martens, lynxes, foxes, wolves, and all kinds of birds and fish that we continue to trap and hunt. We also have moose, bears and caribou that live winter and summer within the Mackenzie Delta. Drilling for oil and gas and mining for gold, diamonds and uranium in the Peel River Watershed might bring money for some people outside of our territory. But these industries use toxic chemicals that are very dangerous to the lakes, creeks and rivers that we have within our environment. Almost every spring, we are flooded because our land lies very low within the delta, and in some years, people are flooded out of their homes.

I want to let Canadians who have never been up here know about the Gwich’in Settlement area and places like Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Inuvik, and Tsiigehtchic. There might be development within the Peel Watershed in the future. If there is an oil spill or a tailings pond run-off during high water, the whole Mackenzie Delta would be contaminated, all the way to the Arctic Ocean. These and other concerns should be kept for future generations.

I still drink water from the Peel River in the summer and from the ice in the winter. I am not afraid that the water might contain toxic chemicals or might be polluted with oil or gas. It is delicious tasting water! I have been drinking Peel River Water since I was born, which is almost seventy years ago now.  I do not want to see anything happening to our beautiful country, which we call God’s country. We do not want this place to be damaged by development within the Peel watershed. Our sincere sympathies go out to those people across Canada and the world trying to protect their land, natural resources and water.

-Fred William Koe

Photo: Brothers and Sisters of Basook Creek, born and raised on the banks of the Peel River.
Back: William Koe, Betty Manthla, Colin Koe, Dorothy Koe, Fred Koe, Paul Koe
Front: Peter Koe, Abraham Koe