Edith Josie: Here Are The News

One hundred twenty miles south of the Arctic Ocean and eighty miles north of the Arctic Circle, the Yukon village of Old Crow straggles along a bluff above the Porcupine River. The 200-plus people who live there are mainly Loucheaux Indians of the Vuntut Gwich’in tribe – the “People of the Lakes.” For the past 38 years, the story of their doings has been told by Edith Josie in a regular column in the Whitehorse Star.

Miss Josie’s unique style (English words, but Loucheaux tensing and phrasing) has won her fans and fame around the world. She is this year’s recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Heritage and Spirituality category. In Vancouver last month to accept her prize, she displayed her trademark spunk and spirit when she joined the after-Awards dancing. Just a’stompin’ and a’jumpin’ and a’jiggin’.

HERE ARE THE NEWS OLD CROW.

ALBERT ABEL WENT UP RIVER SET TRAP AROUND DRIFT WOOD. HE CAME BACK. HE CAUGHT 9 MARTINS, 1 WEASEL. GEE, HE’S LUCKY MAN.

Old Crow is a village in transition these days but access is still only possible by air and, in summer, a riverboat named Brainstorm. At times, some of the men will leave the village to work in a mining camp but the life of the Loucheaux people has been much the same as it was a century or more ago. They pick berries. They hunt caribou for food, trap muskrats and martens and wolves for pelts to sell; in winter they put nets under the ice of the Porcupine River to catch the fish which feed the dogs which pull the sleds which take them to hunting and trapping grounds.

In summer, Old Crow is the hottest place in the Yukon, often reaching temperatures in the mid-30s C and infested with black fly. In winter the temperature can drop to -50 C before windchill. The sun does not rise at all for three weeks in winter; it does not set for two months in summer.

Edith began writing for the Star in late 1962, when Reverend James Simon and his wife came to town. His wife Sarah has been asked by Harry Boyle, then editor of the Star, to look for someone who would handle the job of “Old Crow correspondent.” Sarah Simon asked Edith Josie, because “most of the ladies had someone to look after them. Edith Josie didn’t have a husband to look after her, so I gave Edith the job.”

The editors of the Star, after a startled double-take at the items scrawled diary-style on white stationary, decided that to edit Edith Josie at all would be to destroy her journalistic charm. The column runs whenever an airplane brings it into Whitehorse from the hinterlands. Its appearance is highly dependent upon the weather in the territory.

One of her first newsletters reported on the arrival of an Anglican Bishop and his wife to hold Easter services in Old Crow. Edith writes just as she talks.

AT 1:30 THE SERVICE WAS ON AND SURE GLAD TO HEAR EVERYTHING ABOUT JESUS, WHAT THEY DID TO HIM ON GOOD FRIDAY.

Shortly thereafter she reported on the state of things at the “ratting” (muskrat trapping) grounds at Crow Flats, in muskeg country 50 miles upriver (south) form Old Crow.

JOHN JOE KAY AND HIS FAMILY AND DICK NUKON AND FAMILY CAME INTO TOWN FROM THEIR RATTING CAMP. THEY REPORTED NO RATS AROUND THERE BUT THEY SAY TOO MANY MOSQUITO. TOO BAD NO PRIZE ON MOSQUITO.

Edith lives in a two-room uninsulated log cabin at the east end of the village. The cabin is starkly furnished with a table, a couple of chairs and three beds pushed up against the rough wooden walls. It is heated by a wood stove that also is used for cooking, “and in winter it gets as cold inside as it does outside most of the time.”

Edith never married but she has raised three children. For many years she shared her cabin with her two sons and daughter, her blind mother Mrs. Elizabeth Josie, her brother and his wife and their two children.

Like the other women in the village, Edith butchers and cooks the meat brought home by the men, dries spring meat for the summer, gathers berries, and tans skins for sewing. She carries up water from the river and gathers willow branches for kindling. She is a faithful member of the Anglican Church and is active in the Women’s Auxiliary which plays an important role in the community. She writes her “News” at a huge plywood table.

But times can be tough. Sometimes there was neither food nor money enough to make ends meet.

AT 8:30PM I HAD BABY BOY AND HE’S 6LB. MISS EDITH JOSIE HAD BABY BOY AND I GIVE IT TO MRS. ELLEN ABEL TO HAVE HIM FOR HIS LITTLE BOY. SHE WAS VERY GLAD TO HAVE HIM CAUSE HE’S BOY. I WAS IN NURSE STATION AND MISS YOUNGS SURE TREAT ME VERY NICE. MYSELF AND BABY I REALLY THANKS HER VERY MUCH FOR HER GOOD KINDNESS TO ME.

HELICOPTER BEEN TO OLD CROW AND WENT DOWN RIVER TO CAMP.

SINCE LAST WEEK ALL THE LEAVES ARE GETTING YELLOW. THAT MEAN AUTUMN IS COMING. WHEN THE LEAVES GROW GREEN SURE NICE BUT AT FALL TIME IT’S TURN TO YELLOW – MORE BEAUTIFUL.

Eighteen months later, Edith was solvent enough to reclaim her baby son Kevin, from Mrs. Abel.

Edith’s English evokes the stark stuff of life in the Far North, and in her hands the chronicle of Old Crow becomes a sort of elemental soap opera, people with crises and characters as real as those next door – and twice as exciting.

MORNING AROUND 11 A.M. PETER BENJAMIN THE FIRE CATCH HIM ACROSS THE RIVER. THOSE POLICE THEY TIE THEIR DOGS OTHER SIDE OF RIVER AND THEY ALWAYS COOK DOGS FEED. SO IT IS RAIN ALL NIGHT AND THE WOOD IS WET SO PETER BENJAMIN PUT GAS ON WOOD AND HE LIGHT THE FIRE AND FIRE CATCHES HIS CLOTHES AND HE RUN TO RIVER AND HE JUST GOT INTO WATER AND FIRE IS OUT.

WHEN FIRST THING FIRE CATCH HIM HE WAS HALLER AND SOMEONE HEARD HIS VOICE AND FEW MOTOR BOAT WENT TO HIM. SO AFTER AROUND NOON THE DOCTOR CAME FROM INUVIK AND THEY TOOK HIM TO HOSPITAL.

Sometimes the villagers fly out to larger centres for medical treatment or to visit relatives. Or just for the fun of the trip. What often results is a mild form of culture shock.

ANOTHER AIRCRAFT CAME FROM DAWSON CREEK AND MR. REV. JAMES AND MRS. SIMON RETURNED. AS SOON AS SHE GETS OUT OF PLANE, MRS. SIMON TOLD THOSE WOMEN SHE REALLY HUNGRY FOR DRY MEAT OR EITHER CARIBOU MEAT. MUST BE SHE GOT LOST AWAY FROM DRY MEAT.

FROM ARCTIC RED RIVER I WENT TO FORT MCPHERSON AND SEE ALL MY RELATION THEY WERE HAPPY TO SEE. AND THEY ALL GIVE ME STRENGTH AND HAPPY.

I GOT TO MCPHERSON ON FRIDAY AND WENT BACK TO INUVIK SUNDAY AFTERNOON. WHEN I WAS THERE I WENT TO VISIT MY AUNTIE SARAH SIMON SHE WAS HAPPY TO SEE ME AND ALSO MYSELF TOO.

EVERYBODY ARE WORK TOGETHER AND FRIENDLY I JUST WISH THAT OLD CROW IS LIKE THAT.

MISS JOSIE REALLY HAD A NICE TRIP TO INUVIK. BEEN TO HOSPITAL, THE STORE AND ALSO GLAD TO MEET EVERYONE AT INUVIK. SURE NICE PEOPLE AT INUVIK AND EVERYONE ARE KIND.

MISS JOSIE SEE HAMSTER AT INUVIK. SURE LOOK BUG DIFFERENT, THAT SMALL MOUSE.

In the mid-60′s, Miss Josie travelled to Whitehorse to visit the newspaper.

AFTER THE DISHES ARE DONE AND STARTED OFF TOWARD WHITEHORSE STAR FOR THE CHECK. TO GET SOMETHING WHAT IS GOOD INTERESTED TO BUY. THEN MR. HAROLD TOOK US FOR RIDE TOWARD CARCROSS AND HALFWAY IS THE FARM AND THE CAR STOP FOR WHILE AND MRS. MARSH WANT ME TO TAKE PICTURE OF ME WITH THE COWS BUT I REALLY TO SCARE TO STAND BY THE COWS.

Punctuation, correct grammar and spelling be damned. Away with such frills and frippery. The story is the thing. The disarming honesty with which Miss Edith Josie writes about her friends and neighbours produces prose that is both poignant and amusing. Yet behind her tales of the tribulations and joys of daily life a second story is being told. Inadvertently, Edith reveals herself as a woman of warmth and compassion, she of the loving heart.

MR. PETER MOSES HAS BEEN DOING LOTS OF WORK WHEN HE ALIVE ON THIS EARTH. HE WAS HAPPY OLD MAN AND FRIENDLY WITH ANYBODY, EVEN WITH THE WHITE PEOPLE. SO I KNOW EVERYBODY WILL MISS HIM BUT HOPE HE WILL HAVE A GOOD REST. HE WAS VERY KIND TO THE KIDS MOST AND ALL THE KIDS LIKED HIM. WHEN HE SEES THE BOYS AND GIRLS, HE TALKS SILLY AND LAUGH. WHEN SOMEONE MAKE FEAST HE MAKE SPEECH EVERYONE LIKE BECAUSE HE MAKE EVERYONE LAUGH.

AND WHEN THE DANCE IS ON, HE ALWAYS MAKE JIG WITH HIS WIFE. HE ALWAYS MAKE DOUBLE JIG WITH THE GIRLS. HE WAS BORN ON THE AMERICAN SIDE (Alaska) AND THE YEAR HE WAS BORN IN 1882. I HEAR HE MARRIED IN 1901. HE CAME BACK FROM UPRIVER BECAUSE HE SPIT BLOOD BUT HE WAS VERY GOOD AND HE’S NOT SICK. SO NO ONE KNOW HE WAS GOING TO DIE. WHILE THAT HE PASS AWAY SURE EVERYBODY SURPRISE FOR HIM.

HOPE EVERYONE PRAYS FOR MRS. MOSES AND ROY MOSES. NOT TOO WORRIED TOO MUCH FOR OLD PETER MOSES. HE HAD A GOOD HOUSE AND HE HAD SIX DOGS AND THEY GIVE ONE OF HIS DOGS TO JOHN MOSES. SO HIS WIFE WILL HAVE FIVE OF HIS DOGS. HE HAD A GOOD THING AND ALSO HE HAD GOOD STOVE SO MRS. MYRA MOSES WILL HAVE EVERYTHING GOOD FOR A LITTLE WHILE. THEY WILL MAKE FEAST FOR HIM TOMORROW. EVERYONE GOING TO WORK HARD FOR HIM.

Edith Josie is as “down-to-earth” a person as one could wish for. Her feet are most definitely on the ground. In 1963 scientists from around the world mobbed Old Crow to observe an eclipse of the sun. Miss Josie put the event on its proper rung on the ladder of importance.

MR. REV. J. SIMON MAKING FEAST WITH ONE MOOSE. EVERYBODY HAD A NICE SUPPER. THEY BEEN COOKING FOR HIM AND LATER THAT THEY SET THE TABLE FOR WHITE PEOPLE AND THE INDIANS WERE EATING ON THE GROUND BY MISSION. SURE EVERYBODY ENJOY TO EAT OUT DOOR. WHILE THEY COOK FOR JAMES THE SUN IS ECLIPSE AROUND 11 A.M.

While Miss Josie and her people may share an enviable sense of community, a thing not found with frequency in larger urban environments – people are people are people. And Old Crow has not escaped the shadow side of the human psyche.

THIS LIQUOR IS OPEN AND EVERYONE ARE GLAD BUT WHEN TROUBLE AND FIGHT GOES ON IT DOESN’T LOOK VERY NICE. WHEN DRUNK MAN DON’T KNOW NOTHING AND GET MAD FOR LITTLE THING AND START FIGHT. AND AFTERWARDS THEIR COURT IS OPEN THEY SURE SCARE AND STAY OUT OF TOWN.

WE HAD A VERY SAD THING HAPPEN IN OUR VILLAGE ON THE EVENING OF 17TH THIS MONTH (October 1965) AT 8:30 P.M.

EVERYONE IN THE VILLAGE HEARD TWO GUN SHOT AND FEW MINUTES LATER ANOTHER TWO SHOT IS HEARD. THEN THE NEWS COME THROUGH THE VILLAGE THAT NORMAN MCDONALD IS SHOT.

HE LIVE ONLY 20 MINUTES AFTER HE IS SHOT. HIS BODY FLOWN OUT OCT. 20TH TO BE EXAMINE.

EVERYONE IN OLD CROW FELT VERY BAD AND SORRY FOR THE DEATH OF NORMAN MCDONALD. THE PEOPLE REALLY MUST NORMAN CAUSE HE IS NICE BOY AND REALLY FRIENDLY TO EVERYONE.

HE IS ALSO ENGAGE TO CHARLIE PETER DAUGHTER. HE EXPECT TO GET MARRIED AROUND CHRISTMAS. NOW HE IS GONE. HIS GIRL FRIEND AND HER PARENT REALLY FEEL SORRY FOR NORMAN. SO PLEASE I WISH EVERYONE PRAYER FOR THEM.

The Whitehorse Star of Monday, March 14, 1996: “Mr. Justice John Parker sentenced Ronald Linklater of Old Crow to ten years in the penitentiary, Friday morning.

The 19 year-old-youth was found guilty by a jury of the manslaughter of Norman McDonald.

Judge Parker said that the facts of the present case were fairly simple. “Ronald Linklater became very drunk. He was upset, cross and in a bad mood. Without thought, he turned and shot his friend and cousin twice, and killed them. It was as simple as that.”

EVERYBODY BUSY WORKING ALL DAY, MEN AND WOMEN BEFORE DEAD BODY OF NORMAN MCDONALD RETURN BACK TO OLD CROW. SO ALL MEN DIG GROUND AND WOMAN THEY COOK AT CHARLIE PETER’S HOUSE. EVERYBODY HAD A NICE SUPPER. ALL THE NATIVE AND WHITE PEOPLE EAT AND HAD A NICE MEAL. ALL THE PEOPLE COLLECT GRUB AND MEAT TO COOK. WHEN SOMEONE PASS AWAY AND EVERYONE DO THEIR BEST JUST TO MAKE ALL THE RELATIVES HAPPY AND ALSO SHOW THEIR KIND TO GOD AND DEAD PERSON. WE ALL PRAY FOR THOSE WHO WORK GOOD FOR US AND SHOW US HOW KIND THEY ARE TO THEIR NEIGHBOURS AND WE HOPE GOD WILL GIVE THEM GOOD STRENGTH AND KEEP THEM WELL. THIS IS WHAT GOD IS LOOKING TO PEOPLE ON EARTH.

Miss Josie’s people speak the Gwich’in language; many of them are not fluent in English. This can create both drawbacks and amusement for the villagers as they deal with the dominant culture.

NO CARIBOU IN OLD CROW BUT WHEN RIVER BREAK UP IF CARIBOU COME THEY SAID NOBODY SHOOT CARIBOU IN TOWN OR OUT OF TOWN. WELL HOW ABOUT IN CROW FLAT THEY SHOOT DUCKS, CARIBOU, MOOSE, AND HERE THEY GO AFTER PEOPLE IN TOWN. THE PEOPLE THEY HAVE GOOD CHANCE TO TALK FOR THEMSELF BUT THEY DON’T TALK ENGLISH VERY WELL AND HARD FOR THEM TO TALK WHEN POLICE TALK TO THEM.

DICK NUKON WENT UP TO MOUNTAIN TO HUNT. HE SHOT ONE CARIBOU AND HE SAID ONE CARIBOU GOT TWO HEAD. A BIG SURPRISE FOR THE PEOPLE. DICK NUKON HUNT ON MOUNTAIN AND HE SHOT ONE CARIBOU AND HE DON’T EVEN LOOK AT IT GOOD SO WHEN HE CAME INTO TOWN HE SAID HE SHOT ONE CARIBOU GOT TWO HEADS SO I PUT IT IN MY NEWS BECAUSE IT IS BIG IMPORTANT NEWS. SO MOUNTED POLICE GO UP TO SEE THE CARIBOU. HE SHOT ONE AND TWO CARIBOUS HORN STUCK TOGETHER. THESE IS WHAT HE MEAN. WHEN HE SAID THIS EVERYBODY SURE WANT TO SEE BUT HE SURE MAKE UP WORDS FOR NOTHING.

Born in 1921 in Eagle, Alaska, Miss Josie left school at age 14, having completed Grade 5. She was assisted in further learning and literacy by her older brother Suzi Paul. The family moved to Old Crow in 1940.

Her column was syndicated to papers in Toronto, Edmonton, Fairbanks and California. Many other papers clipped it without paying; she became known across the United States. In 1965 LIFE magazine did a four page feature on her, titled “Everyone Sure Glad.”

Such exposure brought her world-wide recognition; her work has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish and Finnish. And her fan mail just keeps rolling in, from places as diverse as New Zealand, Texas, Florida and the Philippines.

POOR MISS JOSIE NEVER REST AND WORK FOR HIS HOUSE INSIDE AND OUTDOOR WORK BOTH. AND WRITE THE NEWS AND ANSWER ALL THE LETTER SHE GET. SHE LIKE TO WRITE SO SHE DON’T MIND TO WRITE. SURE NICE TO HAVE FRIEND AND WRITE LETTER TO WHO WE NEVER SEE BEFORE.

NOT VERY LONG TO CHRISTMAS AND WE KNOW OLD SANTA IS READY TO TRAVEL LONG WAY WHILE THE WEATHER IS COLD. I HOPE SANTA DON’T GET FREEZE WHEN HE TRAVEL TO THE NORTH.

Her prowess with the written word has won Miss Josie much honour. She received the Canadian Centennial Award in 1967, the Yukon Historical Museums Award in 1994, and the Order of Canada in 1995. In 1957 she was appointed Justice of the Peace for Old Crow and served for seven years.

I WRITE MY BIG NEWS. THAT’S HOW ALL OF THE PEOPLE KNOW WHERE IS OLD CROW. BEFORE THE NEWS GO OUT NOBODY KNOW WHERE IS OLD CROW. JUST WHEN I SEND MY NEWS PEOPLE KNOW WHERE IS OLD CROW.

JUST WHEN I PASS AWAY, THAT’S THE TIME MY NEWS WILL CUT OFF.