Australian travellers feel the call of Yukon’s First Peoples as they explore the histories, cultures, and customs still so prevalent in this unique Canadian territory, above British Columbia in Canada’s northwest.
About one quarter of all Yukoners are of aboriginal ancestry, belonging to one of fourteen distinct First Nations, so-called because they were Canada’s very first people, arriving just after the last great Ice Age, around 24,000 years ago, each with its own fascinating story to tell. The very best way to discover its very first residents is to meet them, talk to them, and live as they did. Here are five ways to absorb yourself in the fascinating First Nations of the Yukon.
- Celebrate First Nations Festivals
Over 150 aboriginal artists and performers will descend upon Yukon’s capital city of Whitehorse for the award-winning Adäka Cultural Festival, from 30 June – 6 July 2017, to share their arts, music and culture with Yukon residents and visitors at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.
The Hà Kus Teyea Celebration will take place from 27 – 30 July at the Teslin Tlingit Council Heritage Centre, beginning with a traditional lake crossing in a Tlingit canoe, followed by a greeting ceremony and the lighting of the Celebration Fire. Immerse yourself in Tlingit culture through art workshops, storytelling, and traditional canoe events.
- Participate in National Aboriginal Day
National Aboriginal Day, taking place on 21 June 2017, is held on the summer solstice and celebrated throughout the Yukon. Pay a visit to any number of First Nations communities and cultural centres, discover their history and achievements, and enjoy live music, art, traditional food, and special ceremonies.
- Live the culture
Take a guided tour or experience a campfire talk in a territorial or national park with an Aboriginal guide who has generations of knowledge to share. Take a guided interpretive hike in Tombstone Territorial Park and stumble on to old hunting blinds, stone tools, and even cemeteries created by the Tr’ondëk Hwëchen whose history traces back thousands of years. Enjoy a nightly campfire talk on area wildlife and traditional practices given by an elder of the Champagne Aishihik First Nations at majestic Kathleen Lake Campground in Kluane National Park and Preserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), near Haines Junction.
- Visit First Nations communities
One of the best way to experience the history and culture of the Yukon’s First Nations communities is to simply pay them a visit. Mingle with the friendly locals and hear their stories around the dinner table. Spend time in the local cultural centres, built specifically to preserve and promote their unique histories.
- Educate yourself: First Nations cultural centres
Yukon is home to some of Canada’s most informative cultural centres, perfect for viewing rare artefacts and ancient forms of transport, as you wrap your brain around the different cultures and stories of the indigenous people. Dawson City Museum tackles some of the history of the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people up until the time of the fur trade and eventual gold rush. A permanent exhibit of traditional First Nations bead work, tools and trade goods can be found at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, in capital city Whitehorse.
The Northern Tutchone people of today and yesteryear are celebrated at the Tagé Cho Hudän Interpretive Centre in Carmacks, and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City displays the culture and traditions of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people. Alternatively, learn about the Vuntut Gwitchin people, the most northern community in the territory, as you close your eyes and listen to the audio recordings of the elders share their traditional stories at the John Tizya Centre in remote Old Crow, Yukon’s only town situated above the Arctic Circle. And in Whitehorse, at the Kwanlin Dun Centre, celebrate the heritage and contemporary way of life of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation people.
Explore the lands and customs of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people at Da Kų Cultural Centre in Haines Junction. Get to know the vibrant language and traditional artwork, and lose yourself in a bygone era as you listen to stories around a campfire during a guided tour.
About Yukon’s First Nations
Yukon is a deliciously diverse mix of history and culture with fourteen First Nations speaking eight different Aboriginal languages, all calling the Territory home. Seven of these languages come from the Athapaskan family which spreads from central Alaska through north-western Canada to Hudson Bay. These seven are Gwichi’in, Han, Kaska, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Tagish, and Upper Tanana. The eighth language, Inland Tlingit, is a distant relative of the Athapaskan family.
Each language is spoken in a general area of the Territory, with no strict boundaries between neighbouring languages, as First Nations people traditionally moved continuously during the year to fish, hunt, trap, and to visit and trade with other groups. Today, many Yukon First Nations continue to live on the land and survive off the resources that it provides, honouring their traditional values and beliefs. Find out more HERE.
The Yukon’s capital city of Whitehorse is just 2.5 hours by air from Vancouver, accessible with year-round daily commercial service. Air Canada flies daily to Vancouver from Sydney and Brisbane.
For more information see www.travelyukon.com.