Vik’ooyendik Territorial Historic Site
Statement of Significance
Vik’ooyendik, or Church Hill, is a prominent hill in the village of Tsiigehtchic, NWT, overlooking the confluence of the Arctic Red and the Mackenzie rivers. As a viewpoint, it provides a dynamic panorama of the surrounding country that takes in an extensive area up the Arctic Red River as well as up and down the Mackenzie River. Near the top of the hill are the church buildings and the graveyard of the Diocese of Mackenzie dating back to the 19th century. The three natural dips in the ground along the steep eastern bank of the Arctic Red River are the “Raven’s beds” closely associated with the Gwich’in Raven legends. The meaning of the Gwich’in name, Vik’ooyendik, was thought to have been lost, however elders stated recently that the name implies “a look out on top of a hill.” The designated site encompasses the Church property and the adjacent east bank of the Arctic Red River. It covers an area of about 1.3 hectares.
The view of the landscape from the top of Vik’ooyendik encompasses more than 15 traditionally named sites that hold Gwich’in cultural and historical information. These places have histories and stories that go back to legendary times. Key to the heritage value of Vik’ooyendik is this vista incorporating so many place names. This easily accessible conduit to the past is a valuable link in the maintenance of a cultural heritage. The site itself encompasses the raven beds where Gwich’in legends tell of Raven resting and scheming to recover his beak after losing it during an altercation with his rival, the grebes.
Long before the church was built on Vik’ooyendik, caribou skin tents were often set on the hill. The site is a gathering place even now. The small chapel still fills with community residents and visitors for the midnight mass at Christmas. People in the community sit here in the spring to enjoy the sunny warm weather and to keep an eye on the ice conditions on the rivers during break up. In the summer people come to admire the view of the rivers and keep track of river traffic. The hill is used by people as a place to rest, relax, and enjoy the surrounding scenery. There is always a bench on the hill where people can sit. There is familiarity and continuity in knowing your ancestors also paused here.
Similarly, there is a comfort and security in familiar landmarks. So it is today as it was over a hundred years ago, when approaching Tsiigehtchic either by land or water, the first glimpse of the community is that of Vik’ooyendik and the Roman Catholic Church perched on top of the hill.
- The surrounding landscape which encompasses a view of many traditional places. The stories associated with these locations constitute an important part of Gwichya Gwich’in oral tradition – a present day conduit to the past.
- The site’s association with the important body of Gwich’in ‘raven’ stories, particularly the three ravens’ beds located near the church that anchor the ancient legend of the theft of Raven’s Beak.
- The traditional lookout and gathering place dating back to pre-contact times.
- The site of the Roman Catholic Church from the 19th century.
- The site is an enduring landmark marking the confluence of two traditionally important rivers. It provides both a striking picture while approaching Tsiigehtchic from either land or water, and panoramic vista while standing on its height.
- Provides a tangible link to oral tradition, place names, and traditional practices
- The Vik’ooyendik site and the church have been identified as culturally and historically significant to the Gwichya Gwich’in and people of Tsiigehtchic.
- Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. 2007. Vik’ooyendik (Church Hill). Nomination Document prepared for the NWT Historic Places Initiative by GSCI, report on file NWT Cultural Places Program, PWNHC, Yellowknife.