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How To Experience Yukon’s First Nations Culture

October 9, 2019 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

Australian travellers are fascinated by Canada’s First Nations culture, with more travellers than ever heading to Yukon Territory in the country’s north-west, home to some of the earliest evidence of the presence of humans in North America.

With around one quarter of Yukoners being of aboriginal ancestry, the First Nations culture and customs are still alive and thriving in this naturally beautiful Canadian territory.

The aboriginal people of Yukon all belong to one of fourteen First Nations, each with its own history and legends, passed down through generations. Wherever you are in Yukon, seek out the local cultural centres, mingle with the friendly locals and listen to their stories.

Whitehorse

On the banks of the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse, take a guided tour at the striking cedar-clad Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, the cultural home of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. You’ll also find a permanent exhibit of traditional First Nations bead work, tools and trade goods can be found at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History.

As you stroll around Yukon’s capital city you’ll encounter large colourful murals, totems and other artwork illustrating meaningful First Nations culture. Traditional crafts along with modern pieces by First Nations artists are also featured in many of the local galleries and gift shops, like the Northern Cultural Expressions Society’s small gallery.

For a cultural immersion of the watery kind, relax in the Takhini Hot Springs, natural mineral hot pools in Whitehorse that were used for centuries by local First Nations.

Duran Henry

Carcross and Haines Junction

In the village of Carcross, spend some time admiring the incredible Carcross-Tagish First Nations’ artwork. Marvel at the staggering totem poles towering overhead, and visit master carver Keith Wolfe Smarch as he works on his latest creations.

In Haines Junction, explore the Da Kų Cultural Centre home of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.  The nations dance group, Dakwäkäda Dancers, have been teaching Southern Tutchone and Tlingit cultures through the tradition of song and dance for more than 20 years.

Dawson City

The first people of Dawson, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, lived well before the gold fever. A visit to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, with its historic photographs, artefacts and traditional art, is a must-do between May and September.

Take a guided tour of the Hammerstone Gallery in the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre to understand the First Nation Peoples’ perspective of the gold rush era. Participate in a river walk tour, check out the art shows, and take home a piece of this dynamic culture from the gift shop – from hand-beaded footwear to books, artwork, and locally produced music.

Tombstone Territorial Park

Tombstone Territorial Park is a legacy of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in land claim agreement and lies entirely within their traditional territory. Drop in to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, 1.5 hours north of Dawson City, take an interpretive tour, and hear the stories of the First Nations people over a cup of ‘Mountain Wild’ tea by a crackling fire.

The Interpretive Centre also has everything you need to plan your backcountry adventure, from trail maps to camping permits.

Moosehide Gathering at Moosehide Village in the Yukon, Canada.

Old Crow

Discover the Vuntut Gwitchin ‘people of the lakes’, the most northern community in the territory. Close your eyes as you listen to the audio recordings of the elders sharing their traditional stories at the John Tizya Centre in Vuntut National Park, the only Yukon community located north of the Arctic Circle. Examine the exhibits that demonstrate the Vuntut Gwitchin’s dynamic culture, including the Porcupine Caribou herd and the vast wilderness of the north.

Adäka Cultural Festival

Plan your trip to Yukon to coincide with the award-winning winning Adäka Cultural Festival in the last week of June. Join more than 150 aboriginal artists and performers as they congregate in Whitehorse to share their arts and culture during this week-long event.

The banks of the Yukon River offer the perfect backdrop to the festival, hosted at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. Immerse yourself in the traditional and contemporary music, and sign up for a workshop to try your hand at drumming, dance, storytelling, film, visual art exhibitions, interpretive programming, and community feasts.

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.

Getting to Yukon Territory

Air Canada has direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, with connecting flights to Whitehorse and Dawson City available on Air North and Air Canada.

For more information about Yukon visit www.travelyukon.com.

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