Update from Ray and Therese Steiner

Just wanted to back track a little to when we first arrived here….

The church in Tsiigehtchic has been a focal point of the community for over one hundred years, the first church built here in 1896. As you travel toward the village, the church stands out on a point, known locally as Church Hill. There are 2 churches here. The current “old church” was built in the early 1920s and needs repair. It is used occasionally for weddings, but it mostly used now after a death to keep the body until the funeral. The new church is smaller and is joined on to the rectory, our house. In the picture below, our house is to the left. Unfortunately, the house and new church sit on a full basement… in the permafrost, which is causing some foundation movement issues.

Taken from down on the beach of the rivers

Taken from down on the beach of the rivers

Soon after arriving, we decided we probably brought too much stuff!

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The days after we arrived were busy unpacking and trying to get organized and clean. The local people were busy hunting caribou. The people of the village were very thankful as the caribou were migrating through about a 2-3 hour drive away. It is the Porcupine herd of caribou, and they had not migrated through the area for about 4 or 5 years. We’ve heard estimates of the herd from 100,000 to 200,000. Daily, we would see pickups leaving the village in the morning with a snowmobile in the back, and returning in the evening or the next day with their caribou.

While we were busy unpacking one evening, a local lady called and invited us over for soup so we could keep unpacking. She said her son had brought her caribou and she was making soup…come around 8 pm. So we did. She was so thrilled to have caribou again. She was very tired that evening since her son and his group had brought 9 caribou the night before and she had been up til 2 in the morning get 5 of them skinned and cut up. This day her husband had been out hunting, but he had come home and didn’t seem to have any luck this time. As we went to leave, we thanked her for the soup and said maybe she would catch up on her sleep as there was no caribou to do tonight. We opened the door to leave and to our surprise, there was a dead caribou on the doorstep. Her quiet husband had actually been successful in his hunt. She accepted our offer of help to cut it up. We dragged it over to the snowbank under the streetlight and skinned it, then cut it up on the hide. Nothing wasted – from the organ meat, to the hooves, to the head (a delicacy for the elders)…all saved and used. We got home before midnight.

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Around the village, hides hang on porches, and the dogs happily chew on fresh bones. Many kitchens have thin strips of meat hanging to make dry meat. Dry meat is like beef jerky, but it isn’t cooked, just dried – those with woodstoves praise the stoves in their homes for making good dry meat.

Down at the beach prior to freeze up, checking out the dog food

Down at the beach prior to freeze up, checking out the dog food

Mostly whitefish and some innconu for dog food

Mostly whitefish and some innconu for dog food

The fish is either fed straight as fish or made into a mash with grains, and tallow.

The branches are to keep the ravens away. Many people have dogs here, but not too many dog teams left any more.

One afternoon when Matthias was out sliding, he met some paddlers from Montreal. They had spent 6 months, paddling from Montreal to Tsiigehtchic (not that Tsiigehtchic was their original destination). There were 6 of them, with 3 canoes, and they were hoping to make it to Inuvik. Unfortunately, by the time they reached Tsiigehtchic, they found that the last stretch of the river to Inuvik was frozen, so their trip ended here. They had paddled 7000 km, starting in April in Montreal and ending here in October. Their longest portage was 24 km. They stayed a night or so in Tsiigehtchic, then travelled by truck to Inuvik. They stayed in the church hall in Inuvik until it was time for their flight home.

The end of a long journey for some cross country paddlers

The end of a long journey for some cross country paddlers

At the time I took these pictures, things were winding down for fall. Most families had had the chance to get the caribou they needed. People knew that it wouldn’t be long until the Mackenzie River froze and the ice would be thick enough to start fishing for egg fish.

A local fisherman takes one last trip up the Mackenzie prior to freeze up

A local fisherman takes one last trip up the Mackenzie prior to freeze up

Hello again from the land of plenty.

The abundance of the caribou and the egg fish have been a great blessing for the people this year.
There is plenty of food from the land for those who have been able to get out, and those they share with.

Once the river ice was safe, the people started to set nets for the egg fish. The egg fish are the female whitefish that are filled with eggs. The eggs are eaten either cooked inside the fish, or raw. Some of the local fisherman say the best is just squeezed out on the ice, with a little salt on top.

Setting nets for egg fish on the Arctic Red River

Setting nets for egg fish on the Arctic Red River

It seemed counterintuitive to us to wait for the ice for the main harvest of fish, but of course the locals know what they are doing! With a couple holes in the ice, and a jig to move the net along, the nets are set under the ice and are checked a couple of times a day.

Father and son checking their nets

Father and son checking their nets

Ray offered to help one of the elders with his nets. They would routinely get 80, 90, 110 fish each time they pulled their nets which are about 75 long.

Theresa Rose by the whitefish from the net

Theresa Rose by the whitefish from the net

The fish are whitefish, though occasionally there is lingcod and inconnu in the nets.

The fish freeze on the ice. They are taken home in the big toboggans pulled behind the skidoos and shared or stored for the winter.

There are different ways to cook them, but a common way is to bake them whole – not gutted – the eggs are cooked inside the fish. The eggs and fish meat are eaten together, though there is not a lot of meat on the egg fish – maybe 1/3 eggs, 2/3 meat. Another favorite recipe of many people here are fish patties.

We enjoyed helping a local fisherman, George, with his net. He is very knowledgeable about the land. He is 80 years old and lives in a wall tent by the river. He has lots of stories and enjoys teasing us. He has about 1000 fish for the winter. He needs the fish for his family, and his dog team of 10 dogs. He saves the female egg fish to eat, and the male fish are for his dogs.

Helping check George's net

Helping check George’s net

Meanwhile on the river, the ferry continues to travel back and forth through a single channel in the ice to keep the highway from Fort McPherson to Inuvik connected.

An excavator works steady, all day, every day, pulling ice from the river and has amassed quite a pile of ice.

Tsiigehtchic has been cut off for a couple of weeks now, but the crew is out in all weather building the ice roads. Building the ice roads is very much manual labour with shoveling, chiseling ice, running pumps – basically building a big skating rink. The men are out there working from morning into the night, and may soon work 24 hours a day. Yesterday the temperature was -31C. They have pickups they can warm up in time to time. They all have to wear floater suits for safety working on the ice.

The ice bridge crew on the Arctic Red River ice bridge, with the ferry and excavators in the background keeping the Mackenzie River crossing open

The ice bridge crew on the Arctic Red River ice bridge, with the ferry and excavators in the background keeping the Mackenzie River crossing open

Yesterday, the Arctic Red River ice bridge opened, so now we can go by milk!

A week or so back, little Theresa was really wanting some milk. She still is not used to the canned milk or powdered milk, and we had run out of frozen milk. I went to our little store. They had long since run out of milk. I was pleasantly surprised when I found one lonely container of chocolate milk in the back of the cooler. When I went to pay they said “oh, this is really out of date…you can just have it”. It was still palatable and Theresa was thrilled.

As we settle in for the winter, we are enjoying getting to know the people here and learning the rhythm of life in Tsiigehtchic.

God bless,

Therese, Ray, Matthias, Kathleen, Mae Theresa Rose and little Daniel