The Heart of the Yukon

I feel like I should post about what an idiot I am. I know you may have suspected this in your readings of my blog, but here’s the proof. I posted a blog last week that was insensitive and narrow minded and I wanted to make up for it.

I wrote last week that when I was growing up in the Yukon, I had a lack of access to culture. I need to clarify that what I meant was I had a lack of access to big museums and art galleries. I definitely had access to culture, in particular, our thriving and colourful Yukon First Nations culture. Please don’t think that I left out the beautiful and rich history and art of our First Nations on purpose. I want you to know that my myopic and western focused post was a real, legitimate accident. I guess when you live in a place for so long, you become blind to the very heart of it, and I know that’s not an excuse.

In the ’80’s when I was a kid here, I remember seeing the First Nation culture everywhere but what I remember most are the garments, handmade parkas, mittens and slippers. If  you wanted to see carvings and full paintings, Yukon Gallery downtown was the place to go. My favourite type of First Nation art form was always beadwork, used on everything from slippers to vests and always so colourful.

The history of First Nations in the Yukon is a mixed one. There is evidence of people in the Yukon from 10,000 to 25,000 years ago, who walked across the land bridge from what is now Russia, and the First Nations people who live here now are descendants of these first peoples. These nomadic people lived off the land and their traditions and way of life was undisturbed for thousands of years, until the white people came and changed everything. In Canada, this part of our country’s history is not something to be proud of and has generally been avoided for many years. The Government of Canada decided that the First Nations people were property of Canada and made all children attend residential schools to be assimilated. These children were ripped from their homes and didn’t see their families for years at a time, sometimes never again. There was rampant abuse in the schools and families were never the same. Even though the last school was closed in the Yukon in 1969, there are still many deep scars.

As a white person who grew up in Whitehorse, I never knew this history until I was older. And when I found out, it made me ashamed to be white. All the wrongs that were done here, and all over Canada is something that every Canadian should be aware of and it shouldn’t be hidden. And that’s part of why I felt I had to write this blog, to make up for not acknowledging that this place has a culture all it’s own, and has for a long, long time.

If you come to the Yukon, please remember this and make sure that you seek out that inspirational culture, a culture that has come back from the brink of extinction and thrives today. From the incredible architecture in Carcross to the healing totem pole they recently put up at the end of Main Street, there is culture everywhere. You can also see Yukon First Nations art in the galleries all over Whitehorse and the communities, but a few great places to start are the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, Northern Cultural Expressions Society as well as the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association. They all have an abundance of resources and can point you in the right direction.

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