The Vuntut National Park is located 111 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the traditional territory of the Vuntut Gwitchin Nation, with very few non-local visitors per year. The larger Gwich’in Nation spans the U.S., Yukon and Northwest Territories borders, many parts of which are only accessible by boat, skidoo or planes. Dog teams and skidoos are still proudly used. They are essential for daily living and land use in the long winters to hunt, trap, get firewood and visit. These communities have long honoured their transportation by outfitting sled dogs with stunningly embroidered and beaded regalia in the form of dog-blankets.
In Being Skidoo, artist Jeneen Frei Njootli explores these traditions, relationships and the practice and aesthetics of reciprocity within the Gwitchin community of Old Crow. Throughout the spring, community members at the John Tizya Heritage Centre and youth from Chief Zzeh Gittlit School’s land-based learning camp collaborated on 2 skidoo blankets, one of which was a gifted to an elder. Together, they created regalia for the vehicles which acknowledges them, in the same way that sled dogs are honoured, as tools and partners in travel. Frei Njootli continued to make 7 skidoo blankets with and for the Old Crow community, all of which were given as gifts. While beautiful, the blankets are a technology that not only keep the skidoos warm in subzero climates, but also help to guard against engine corrosion.
The work exists on the land and the film is an experimental documentary of the process of researching, co-creating and presencing these new belongings onto the land and into Vuntut Park in April 2017. The film Being Skidoo offers a look at our intimate and connected relationships with the North: the elements, the land, its animals and one another.