As well as being a partnership of two young people, marriage was also an alliance between families and groups. Often marriages were arranged between the families, sometimes while their children were still very young. It was important that a person from the Crow moiety married someone from the Wolf side. Elders were consulted to trace the lineage of the pair and ensure they were not related in a taboo way. Customarily a young man moved in with his wife’s family as another provider.
Joe Henry recalled as a young man working on the steamboats he was told his elders that he was expected to marry Annie Mitchell. The Gwich’in couple had little money but Chief Silas of Moosehide made a party for them and Joe later remembered the delicious dried meat soup. For most of their lives, the pair lived and worked in the country now traversed by the Dempster Highway. They had 13 children, 12 of whom survived to adulthood. In 2000, Guinness World Records recognized them as the World’s Longest Married Couple, 79 years at the time, going on 81 when Joe died. In later years, the couple was treasured by our people for their work sharing language, stories of the land and their travels, and traditional knowledge.
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Annie and Joe Henry in 1993.