‘A love letter to the land’: Tetlit Zheh author wins Gwich’in contest

(Photo courtesy of Wade Vaneltsi)

A Gwich’in storyteller has won a contest by writing an ode to home, based on his admiration for his father, land, and community–the same collective he attributes to making him the man he is today.

Wade Vaneltsi is a 30-year-old from Fort McPherson and this year he’s come first place as part of the Gwich’in Council International (GCI) #ProudtobeGwichin contest.

“Spending time with my dad on the land is what shaped (my)… understanding and inspiration behind the poem,” he says.

The poem is called A love letter to the land.

Not only was Vaneltsi surprised to have won but inspired to continue his writing journey in the process.

Vaneltsi says his father, Clifford, was a hunter who taught him how to survive, about animals, how to travel and how to read the land.

Moving to the city for work a few years ago, he felt “desensitized” to everything around him.

He recalls hearing ambulances pass by without a second thought as to who it was, as it was an everyday occurrence.

He felt as though he was losing himself.

He explains that was what ultimately pushed him to write.

“I (felt) disconnected from home being there,” he says, “I think having no mountains around really played a big part . . . I love seeing the mountains.”

His favourite line in the poem, reads, “And if you breathe and embrace the golden silence of our land, you will realize that it has a song for those who listen, a song of love.”–something he remembers hearing as a child and will never forget, no matter how far from home he travels.

(Photo courtesy of Wade Vaneltsi)

He describes the feeling as a sense of stillness washing over him, making him feel one with the earth.

Devlin Fernandes is the executive director at Gwich’in Council International and this is the second year the GCI has supported this program across all Gwich’in nations, including the Yukon, Alaska and the NWT.

“We wanted to hear Gwich’in members’ views their voices and photography to show the strength of the Gwich’in Nation and to share what it means to live in a good way,” she says.

The winning submissions will be featured on the GCI’s annual reports and on the website later this year, coupled with a $150 cash prize, with honourable mentions taking home $50.

The other finalists are Crystal Norris, Jolene McDonald, Angelica Baalam, Lawrence Norbert and Kayleen Ward-Peter.

The #ProudtobeGwichin contest will run again in September.

Vaneltsi is currently writing a horror script for a short film he hopes to produce in the future.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. Mariah is excited to begin her journey and career in Yellowknife, NWT, and get involved with the community. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com