Across the length and breadth of the NWT you’ll find community spirit and cheer – a camaraderie that’s rare to find in larger centres to the south. Join a seasonal arts event to explore regional cultures. Test your bush skills at a winter carnival. Our communal spirit is obvious from the early days of January when fireworks greet the first sunrise of the year in Inuvik, through spring carnivals, to summer music and art events under the sky, to theatre and film festivals and community dances late into the year.
One of the great benefits of living in the North is the access it provides to northern Aboriginal cultures. Across the NWT, there are 11 official languages – more than in any other state, province or region in the Americas. English is predominant, and French is widely spoken by a healthy Francophone community, but but Aboriginal languages and cultures still hold strong from the Arctic coast to the Alberta border. Northern Aboriginal people still remain firmly connected to the land, their diverse ways of life, traditional activities and arts and crafts. These unique and powerful cultures are readily accessible in the communities, as First Nations groups work to preserve their heritage and present their culture to visitors and newcomers to the North.
Aboriginal languages spoken in the NWT include Chipewyan, Cree, Gwich’in, Innuinaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tlicho. Cultural groups include the following richly diverse peoples:
The Akaitcho people’s ancestors were active in Canada’s early fur trade, and their traditional Aboriginal cultures and languages are still practiced today. Modern-day Akaitcho members can be found at Fort Resolution, Lutsel K'e, Fort Smith, Dettah, N’Dilo, Yellowknife and the Salt River First Nation Reserve—one of only two reserves in the NWT.
The people of the Dehcho speak South Slavey. Kat’lodeeche, one of two NWT reserves, lies in this region, and Dehcho communities also include Hay River, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson, Fort Liard, Trout Lake, Nahanni Butte, Kakisa, Jean Marie River and Wrigley.
The people of the lower Mackenzie Valley are related to Gwich'in groups in Yukon and Alaska. Their land claim includes the present-day communities of Tsiigehtchic, Fort McPherson, Aklavik and Inuvik.
The people of the western Arctic coastal area speak Inuvialuktun and Innuinaqtun, both related to the eastern Arctic language, Inuktitut. The Inuvialuit language region includes Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Aklavik, Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok.
Many Northerners of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage are descendants of Cree/French families of the fur-trade era. Others have Scottish or English ancestors who came north with the Hudson's Bay Company. In some areas the Métis participate in the regional land claim, while in others the Métis are submitting a separate claim.
The traditional lands of the speakers of North Slavey are west and north of Great Bear Lake (Sahtu). The Sahtu claim includes the communities of Deline, Tulita, Fort Good Hope, Colville Lake and Norman Wells.
The Tlicho occupy traditional territory between Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes. The Tlicho claim and the reach of the Tlicho language includes Behchoko, Whati, Wekweeti, and Gameti.
For more information, visit the following sites:
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is a rich source of cultural and historical information about the First Nations of the NWT.
Spectacular Northwest Territories also offers information about First Nations culture in the NWT.
From the 18th century journals of early European explorers to award-winning work by NWT-born-and-bred creators, the NWT has long been the source of great art. Here’s a brief round-up of some key works:
Magazines with a northern flavour:
Up Here, Life in Canada’s Far North: Read It
EdgeYK: Read It
Books about the NWT:
1795: A Journey to the Northern Ocean, by Samuel Hearne: Read It
Considered a classic of northern-exploration literature, A Journey to the Northern Ocean is Samuel Hearne's story of his epic three-year trek to find a trade route across the Barrens in the Northwest Territories.
1953: Dangerous River, by R.M. Patterson: Read It
In the mid-1920s, Patterson left a comfortable position with the Bank of England for a life in the Canadian North. His most famous book chronicles two journeys down the Nahanni River, spurred on by his lust for both adventure and gold.
1963: Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat: Read It
Based on the author’s experiences in the 1940s, this bestselling work was pivotal in changing the public’s perceptions of the wolf.
1989: Solomon Gursky Was Here, by Mordechai Richler: Read It
Gursky is one of iconic Canadian author Richler’s best-loved works. Much of it is set in the NWT, including elements such as the Franklin Expedition and Yellowknife’s famous Gold Range bar.
1996: The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp: Read It
One of the first major works by an NWT First Nations author, The Lesser Blessed tells the story of Larry, a Tlicho Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer.
2007: Late Nights On Air, by Elizabeth Hay: Read It
Winner of the Giller Prize among its many other awards, this best-selling novel is set in 1970s Yellowknife, and tells a story of personal tumult amid a stunning landscape.
2012: Coming Home: Stories from the NWT, by various authors: Read It
This recent anthology features eighteen stories by NWT writers that express the diversity of the region. Included are “stories of teenage angst; connection with the land; the Giant Mine strike of 1992; relationships both failed and renewed in Yellowknife; getting lost in the bush; Europeans shipwrecked and saved by Inuit; Inuit taken on board by Europeans; learning from elders and other cultures; a wonky tourism outing; going to jail for breaking a dog bylaw and many more.”
For more information about Northern books, visit the Yellowknife Book Cellar.
Films and TV:
1983: Never Cry Wolf: Find Out More
This award-winning film was based on Farley Mowat’s memoirs, directed by Carroll Ballard, the famed director of The Black Stallion, and starred veteran American character actor Charles Martin Smith.
2003 The Snow Walker: Find Out More
In this adventure film based on a Mowat short story, Smith directs the adventuresome tale of a dashing Yellowknife pilot and the young Inuit woman he meets in his travels.
1992-2005: North of 60: Find Out More
Set in a fictional Dehcho community, this drama first aired on CBC Television in 1992 and was syndicated around the world. Several movie-length specials kept it running until the mid-2000s and it can still be found on air in several markets.
2007-2011: Ice Road Truckers: Find Out More
A worldwide reality TV smash, Ice Road Truckers introduced the world to Yellowknife-based trucking celebrity Alex Debogorsky, as well as to the adventures of long-haul transporters in the North.
2009-2012: Ice Pilots NWT: Find Out More
This other blockbuster reality show on the History Channel is also a world-wide success, bringing visitors from around the world to Yellowknife and Hay River in search of the dashing, devil-may-care pilots of Buffalo Air.
2012- Now: Arctic Air: Find Out More
This one-hour adventure series, which premiered to the highest ratings ever recorded for a CBC drama, tells the Yellowknife-based story of a maverick airline and the family who run it.
2012: The Lesser Blessed: Find Out More
This adaptation of Richard Van Camp’s coming-of-age tale won plaudits when it premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, and continues to win admirers for its portrayal of the complexities of modern life in the NWT.
Don’t forget to browse the archives of the National Film Board. This wonderful depository of documentary films, shorts and animation includes some intriguing works about the Northwest Territories, such as Donald Wilder’s 1962 short Nahanni, or Bill Mason’s feature length 1972 documentary Cry of the Wild, a story of northern wolves that ranges across the NWT, the Yukon and B.C.
Other NWT Arts and Cultural Sites of Interest: