Experiencing The Yukon Through Their First Nations
I am obsessed with ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and British history yet for some reason I’ve skipped exploring the ancient culture and stories of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It is not taught or highlighted in our schools and it should be. This is all about to change for me starting in the Yukon with some authentic Indigenous experiences in Whitehorse and Carcross.
Will I be able to add an Indigenous activity or adventure to every trip I make in Canada? Maybe not, but when available I will take advantage of it and add it to my itinerary. I have no doubt that I will come to be as awed by the rich cultural traditions of Canada’s Indigenous peoples as I am by the ancient Egyptians and Romans.
Please note that to book these adventures yourself it is best to go through a Yukon based tour company that can handle all the arrangements for you as the offerings will vary based on interest.
Ice Fishing And Learning to Trap With Chief James Allen
In my top three Yukon adventures of all time is the day I spent with former Chief James Allen of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp normally operates only during the summer months but on this visit, I am lucky enough to take part in their inaugural winter adventure. It all takes part in the ancestral hunting grounds occupied by James Allens family for generations on Kluane Lake.
The adventure starts with a snowmobile ride to a frozen portion of Kluane Lake within eyesight of James cabin. Here we set up for a morning of ice fishing. We didn’t catch anything except for a great time.
Next, we head up the trails in the snowmobile up to s series of cabins that are rented out during the summer months. It is here that Allen’s daughter has prepared a lovely lunch of soup, sandwiches and Bannock. OMG, I would do this again just for the BANNOCK! The views from these cabins are truly spectacular.
After lunch we head into the woods to see one of his families old trap lines. This is how his family for generations have hunted for food and furs during the winter months. Nothing is wasted and it’s a very insight into how the First Nations people in the Yukon lived in harmony with nature.
Our day ends with a snowmobile ride back to base camp and our cars. Future excursions may alter slightly from this adventure as we were their “test group” but I’m positive that your day with James Allen and his family will be as enjoyable for you as it was for me.
Long Ago Peoples Place
Opened in 1995 Long Ago Peoples Place is a recreation of a traditional First Nations Village. With traditional living structures as well as tools and hunting recreations this is where you can experience what it would be like to live off the land as the Southern Tutchone people in the Yukon have done for thousands of years.
Long Ago Peoples Place operates year round but winter activities are by appointment only (I suggest you book and arrange through a tour operator). Our tour included walking through the buildings and checking out the trap lines used for hunting food and fur during the winter months.
Truly fascinating and amazing how they adapted tools and items found around into a thriving community. We also headed into one of the winterized buildings for a hot lunch that included more Bannock. It seems every family has their own unique Bannock recipe and this one was similar to cornbread in its form.
Salve Making And Carving With the Carcross Tagish First Nation
72 km south of Whitehorse is the town of Carcross and home of the Carcross Tagish First Nation and the newly opened Carcross Learning Centre. It is a community centre, gathering place for locals and a place where you can experience and learn about the local Carcross Tagish First Nation.
This adventure was organized by Who What Where Tours out of Whitehorse and was customized just for us. Yes, you can request a customized tour, especially useful if you are a large group of friends &/or family travelling together.
One of the highlights of the day includes a salve making class with Donna Wolfe in the medicine room. Using locally sourced ingredients such as spruce and balsam Donna showed us how to make traditional salves. Honestly, once you try these naturally made salves you will never buy commercially made moisturizers again.
After a locally sourced lunch of Moose Stew, Fried Trout, and plenty of Bannock we headed off to meet with the Carcross Tagish First Nation Carver in residence, Keith Wolfe-Smarch. Keith is world famous and his work is on display at the Learning Centre. Just look for the beautiful Totem Poles that frame the entrance to the centre.
When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the area they met with Keith and even got a carving lesson from him. We didn’t have time to carve with him but we did see some of his amazing work and on my next visit I want to learn to carve with him.
With these three adventures I was able to snowmobile, ice fish, learn how to trap and make natural medicines but most of all I heard stories about the first peoples that called the Yukon home from their descendants. It’s a history lesson passed down from generation to generation and it is one of the experiences that make visiting the Yukon so magical and special.