When artist Darrell Chocolate was commissioned by the Tłı̨chǫ government in early 2020 to do a painting celebrating the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty 11, he knew he wanted it to depict several aspects of the Tłı̨chǫ people.
The Tłı̨chǫ artist asked several chiefs what they thought should be included in the painting and they drew up a list for him that included canoes, caribou, cultural events like drumming and women tanning hides, and Tłı̨chǫ land.
After researching some photographs online, which provided him with the inspiration on how to include the different scenes, he made a rough sketch.
"I already knew in my head, I'm going to paint the Chief [Monfwi, who signed the treaty on behalf of the Tłı̨chǫ people]. That's going to be the centrepoint. And everything around him was going to be the reflection of the past 100 years," he said.
The result is a stunning painting, released virtually on Facebook on Aug. 22, which marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the treaty.
A portrait of Chief Monfwi — who demanded during treaty negotiations that the boundaries of the Tłı̨chǫ territory be drawn on a map and that its people be free to live as they had before, without interference — fills the centre.
Surrounding him are different scenes: people in a birch canoe, others in a modern-day canoe, a man drumming, an elderly woman tanning a caribou hide, a lone caribou, two elderly women who look like they are praying, a man carrying a pack and an area of Tłı̨chǫ land.
'He set our rights'
Treaty 11 is the last of the numbered treaties that was signed between the federal government and First Nations. Treaty 11 territory encompasses more than a dozen Gwich'in, Sahtu Dene, Dehcho Dene and Tłı̨chǫ communities in the Northwest Territories — spanning an area twice the size of Germany.
Chocolate said elders often talk about Chief Monfwi, "of what he did, of what he said and stories of him."
"He set our rights, our hunting rights, our trapping rights, our way of life," he said, adding he's hopeful younger generations will keep the Tłı̨chǫ way of life on the land.
He added that the Tłı̨chǫ government is still deciding where the painting will be hung permanently and said two options being considered include the new cultural centre in Behchokǫ̀ or the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.
Chocolate said he is honoured to have done the painting and showcase the culture of the Tłı̨chǫ people in the North.
"We're all very similar in culture in the North here as Dene people," he said. "We all have the drums, we all have the canoes, and we all have our hunting and trapping and we're all basically similar."