The Turner Prize committee, composed of Regna Darnell, Tracey Heatherington, and Misty Bastian ... decided to award a special prize for an Oral History and Collaborate Ethnography and they selected Shirleen Smith and the Gwich’in First Nation’s People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich’in Elders/Googwandak Nakhwach’ànjòo Van Tat Gwich’in (Alberta).
Regna Darnell’s introduction for People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich’in Elders/Googwandak Nakhwach’ànjòo Van Tat Gwich’in (Alberta) by Shirleen Smith and the Gwich’in First Nation.This extraordinary award recognizes the humanistic achievement of the Vuntut Gwitchin oral history project. The category of collaborative research and oral history encapsulates SHA’s commitment to the ethnography part of ethnographic writing as the sine qua non disciplinary credibility. The community’s anthropologist, Shirleen Smith, is less visible on the surface than most anthropologists as authors. I first came to know Old Crow, Yukon Territory, through reading the Edmonton Sun columns of Edith Josie reprinted from the Whitehorse Star. Old Crow has also been mightily visible in the world outside its boundaries through its stewardship of the porcupine caribou herd and now shares its traditional knowledge of land and community through this elegant volume of texts and photos – with well-deserved kudos to the University of Alberta Press. Organization of the text by generation reflects the real-world mode of transmission of knowledge, a longitudinal perspective that animates the dynamism of oral tradition by linking generations through experience-based narratives of known and named persons. “Long-ago Stories” come from the generations no longer remembered by name; the first generation of elders were first interviewed in the 1980s and speak about 19th century rapid changes. The second generation of elders, many still active, were the last to live fully on the land. Young people from the community are now creating an archive around the words of generations of elders. The result is a pedagogical resource for the community and for outsiders seeking to understand the continuity of traditional ways in northern communities despite extensive consequences of recent culture change.