Gwich’in elder recognized for nearly 25 years of char monitoring on N.W.T.’s Rat River

After nearly 25 years of monitoring char on the Rat River at his camp near Aklavik, N.W.T., John Carmichael has been recognized for his work.

The Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board held a recognition ceremony about two weeks ago to celebrate Carmichael and the monitoring he’s accomplished.

“John has been the head char monitor since the mid ’90s. He helps collect the information at his traditional fishing camp,” said Amy Amos, executive director of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board.

“I think he’s a role model for others to look up to for fishing and the way he was able to work with collecting samples at his traditional camp.”

Carmichael, an 87-year-old Gwich’in elder, retired from the program last year.

The char monitoring program is a joint effort between the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

John Carmichael and Lois Harwood in 2004. ‘He was in the first of our monitors and we all worked it out together, and the program has stood the test of time,’ said Harwood of Carmichael. (Submitted by Lois Harwood)

Amos said Carmichael wrote some detailed notes over the years, and “that information is really helpful when we are looking back at the different seasons of what is happening with the fish that year.”

She said the elder wasn’t just keeping a dataset, but he was also providing his expertise and knowledge from being out on the land.

“That’s been a long-term dataset of information that kind of helps the Rat River working group make their decisions at their annual meetings,” said Amos.

She said having this type of community-based research can influence future programs.

‘He’s a real trapper’

At the ceremony, Carmichael was given a painting based on a photo of a char underwater.

One of the attendees was his younger brother, Fred Carmichael, who said being out on the land has alway been Carmichael’s passion.

“He’s a real trapper, I certainly wasn’t. I left there because I couldn’t trap, I couldn’t catch anything,” said Fred.

“He had to carry all the load.… He just loves it in the bush. He just loves trapping, or hunting or [being] out in the mountains. He lives for the land.”

He just loves in the bush. He just loves trapping, or hunting or [being] out in the mountains. He lives for the land.– Fred Carmichael, brother

Lois Harwood is a biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who helped set up the program in 1995. 

She said Carmichael is one of five monitors who sampled his catches with the Rat River program.

“What’s really a strong part of this is his long-term commitment and the consistent measuring and sampling,” said Harwood.

At the ceremony, Carmichael was given a painting based on a photo of a char underwater. (Submitted by Lois Harwood)

“He was in the first of our monitors and we all worked it out together, and the program has stood the test of time, so we must have transferred knowledge and methods appropriately back in those early days.”

Harwood said the long-term fish monitors in the Beaufort Delta region are a “cornerstone” of many programs with the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board.

“Working with community harvesters, it’s a collection of data from the fishery but very importantly,” said Harwood, “it’s all aspects of traditional knowledge that is shared through the process.”

Harwood said monitoring programs across the region first began in 1989 in Paulatuk and Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

“I think this region, these fish and these marine mammal programs.… are the gold standard across the country and across the Arctic, and I think there’s a lot of programming that’s developed in other areas that does the same approach.”

Though Carmichael is no longer in his position, the role was kept in the family. His son, Harry, and daughter-in-law, Florence, have now taken over.

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