As walls crumble, memories remain for Tłı̨chǫ gatherings

Hundreds of people piled into the Behchokǫ̀ cultural centre for a  final hand game tournament ahead of the 30 year old building being torn down.

Nearly double the teams anticipated registered with 40 plus groups on the roster.

Even with the $30,000 prize on the line, it was the chance to play one more game with friends and family that brought resonated with so many.

“To see the building go is actually going to be heartfelt for a lot of people,” said Richie Martin of Behchokǫ̀.

“We are in modern days and we need a bigger building, something where we can have more people come in.”

(Hand game: Team from Behchokǫ̀ showing off their moves in the last tournament to be played at the old cultural centre. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

A member of the group “Our Tłı̨chǫ Drummers,” Martin has watched the resurgence of his culture in youth through the games.

“In 2005, we had the first tournament here held in March and that was just straight men 18 over for the first tournament. Now it’s just more and more youth playing every year,” he said.

For the famous annual Ediwa Weyallon handgame tournament the community swells from 2,000 to roughly 5,000 over one weekend, many of whom are youth and kids.

“I remember I was probably like these kids running around here. I remember playing around, jumping around as they were building it, excited to see how it turned out. It’s pretty nice, it’s been here a long time,” said Jonathan Lafferty who travelled from Dettah, NWT back home to Behchokǫ̀.

It’s more than just fun and games when families travel in by boat and ice road to attend though.

Gatherings are a breeding ground for passing on Dene laws to the next generation.

Wendy Mantla, a resident of Behchokǫ̀, has three sons playing in the tournament.“It means a lot especially for the younger ones learning our culture with hand games. Knowing our language, our culture and what our ancestors use to do,” she said.Land claim negotiations, feasts and hundreds of weddings have all graced the centre.

“My sister actually got married here too. It was memorable because that was the last time my Dad was drum dancing in that building,” Mantla said.

(Tłı̨chǫ community gatherings always draw many Elders. As per protocol, they are receive the best seat in the house and lead many of the opening prayers and remarks. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)

The building is being demolished due to mold and public consultations have been held to plan for a new centre.

Lucy Lafferty, a resident of Behchokǫ̀, said just like the original design under the guidance of the local friendship centre, reflected the culture of the people and did not resemble an institutional government office.

“I’ve gone to one of the consultations. They had elders and community members talking about why the building was needed. They want to make sure that the building will represent the Dene Tłı̨chǫ, customs, culture and the way we do things,” she said.

Community gatherings will take place in the multiplex for the time being as all that is left of the old centre will be memories once demolished.

Video Journalist / Yellowknife

Charlotte joined APTN in January 2017 as a video journalist in Yellowknife, N.W.T.. Before coming to APTN she interned at CTV Lethbridge, earned her BA in feminist research from Western University and her obtained post-graduate in journalism at Humber College.