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Indigenous Peoples of Canada's Yukon Territory

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

The Dempster Highway in the Yukon (Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8)

The Dempster Highway in the Yukon (Yukon Highway 5 and Northwest Territories Highway 8)

People Who Live at the Arctic Circle

The Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Canadian Territories are fascinating in their cultures and histories. Their survival skills in harsh climates are jaw-dropping.

Scientists recently learned of their genetic and cultural links with other Circumpolar Peoples around the full Arctic Circle, including Iceland—delightful news in my 40+ years of related professional research. Most recently, I edited a book concerning the migration of indigenous peoples back and forth across national borders in Western Canada and USA.

A 1953 Yukon Territory truck license plate.

A 1953 Yukon Territory truck license plate.

I collected information about Plains indigenous tribes beginning in Grade 3 but progressed to college majors in psychology and Russian studies and a minor involving cultural anthropology and archaeology related to Native North Americans. The education helped me to find my own indigenous heritage years later.

I have enjoyed my in-person research visits to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, which led me to additional sites revealing information about the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory and how they are related.

Discovering the Yukon

University archaeology and anthropology courses provided a sparse overview of the Pacific Northwest and Yukon Territory Peoples in my experience, but much more was discovered. Now, the 21st century is an era of gigantic findings in new archaeological digs on many continents.

It has been rewarding activity to find what we call "totem" poles in East Asia, Siberia, and other regions similar to those found in the Pacific Northwest and small outposts in the Yukon Territory on the Alaskan border. Moreover, it has been enlightening to find at least three related First Nations and Native Alaskans inhabiting a long area of land in both the USA and Canada.

Dawson City, Yukon

Dawson City, Yukon

Anthropological Terminology

In cultural anthropology in the USA, Indigenous Peoples on our continent have also been called aboriginal, native, original, or first peoples.

This article speaks about those people indigenous to Canada and Alaska from some point between 12,000 or 14,000 and 35,000 or more years ago. The first humans to settle in the lands that became Canada and the USA are grouped this way:

Native North Americans: This umbrella term Includes the first inhabitants from Mexico to the north of the Arctic Circle and from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.

  • Indigenous groups in Canada are also called First Nations, Aboriginals, and First Peoples. Those living clustered around the Arctic Circle are also called Circumpolar Peoples. Groups in Alaska are also termed Native Alaskans.
  • First Nations reservations are called reserves.
  • Indigenous groups in America (USA) have a large number of names: Native Americans (preferred by a number of groups), American Indians, Amerindians, Tribes, Tribal Groups, and Indigenous Peoples. Infrequently, they are called First Peoples. In 19th century UK literature, Native Americans were often called Red Indians to differentiate them from Asian Indians, who were called Blacks by some writers.
  • Many federally recognized Native American Nations live on reservations.

Helpful Abbreviations:

  • Canadian Yukon – Officially, this is the Yukon Territory, abbreviated YK. Some 19th and 20th century literary works spoke of the Canadian Yukon during a time of Alaskan border negotiations.
  • Alaskan Yukon – Today, it does not exist. During boundary disputes, a portion of Alaska was called the Alaskan Yukon. Some indigenous groups are found on both sides of the border. In fact, many of them have intermarried and shared cultures and customs.
Emerald Lake in Carcross, Yukon

Emerald Lake in Carcross, Yukon

First Nations Communities

The Yukon also supports 16 lesser communities that are census-designated areas and unincorporated. In addition, the territory supports four First Nations Reserves.

First Nation Reserves in the YK:

  • Carcross Reserve # 4
  • Lake Laberge (Tàa'an Män) Reserve #1
  • Moosehide Creek Reserve #2
  • Teslin Trading Post Reserve #13

Indigenous Languages Spoken in Yukon Territory as of the 2011 Census:

  • Self-reported languages included: Cree, Dene, Innu/Montagnais, Inuktitut, Mi'kmaq, Ojibway, and Oji-Cree.
  • A counted 7,705 people report indigenous origins out of about 36,000 residents in the territory. About 20% of these peoples report the ability to speak an indigenous language.

Major First Nation Bands of the Canadian Yukon

Speaking a total of eight indigenous languages and with one group with homelands on both sides of the Alaska-Yukon border, the indigenous nations in the Canadian Yukon include, in alphabetical order:

Aishihik (or Aishikik or Aishigik) First Nation and Champagne First Nation Locations

  • #1 Allen Place, PO Box 5310 Haines Junction YK, Y0B 1L0
  • 304 Jarvis Street Whitehorse YK, Y1A 2H2.
  • These groups are found just north of the border with British Columbia. Given that the larger group of all Aboriginals traveled across the Bering Strait west to east and adding cultural and DNA tracking, these two nations likely crossed into Alaska and the Yukon Territory and continued south and southeastward through to BC.
  • These combined two nations recognize their two communities of habitation but are now largely found in Haines Junction, at the Klukshu fishing spot in the Yukon Territory, with some living in Whitehorse. Language is usually Southern Tutchone.
  • The Royal BC Museum staff found that mummy found by hunters in Northern BC through mtDNA to be related to 17 members of Native Alaskans, British Columbia First Nations, and the Yukon's Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. Reference: Location:

Council of Yukon First Nations

The Council of Yukon First Nations was founded in 1973 and represents at least 10 of the 14 nations recognized by the territorial government in 1995.

Important Locations

  • Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon Aboriginal Sports Circle (on Facebook), Training Policy Committee, Aboriginal Women's Circle; 2166-2nd Avenue; Whitehorse, Yukon Territory Y1A 4P1.
  • Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. 1171-1st Avenue, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
  • Yukon Indian Cultural Education Society. 11 Nisutlin Drive. Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada Y1A 2S5.
Gwich'in men at Fort Yukon, Alaska.

Gwich'in men at Fort Yukon, Alaska.

Interior Yukon Nations

  • Gwich’in Native Alaskan Nation and Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation. Fort Yukon, Circle, Arctic Village, and Venetie, Alaska; and Old Crow, Yukon Territory. The dialects of all of these communities are similar and called Western Gwich'in. Old Crow people are particularly interested in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska because their caribou herds give birth there. At least four bands of Gwich'in reside in Canada's Northwest Territories.
  • Kluane First Nation. Burwash Landing YK.
  • Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. Carmacks YK.
  • First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun. Mayo YK. Part of their lands stretch into the Northwest Territories to the east. Some trace their family histories to the Gwitch'in people of Northern Yukon and the Mackenzie people of Eastern Yukon.
  • Ross River Dena Council, Kaska Dena Nation. Pelly Crossing YK.
  • Selkirk Nation. Pelly Crossing YK. Formerly called the Hucha Hudan at Fort Selkirk Trading Post in YK. Also found in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Chief Isaac of the Han People, Canadian Yukon.

Chief Isaac of the Han People, Canadian Yukon.

The Han People of the Yukon Territory and Alaska

The name Han can be confusing, because at least three major Han groups exist: in China, all of the Korean original people, and this Indigenous Group in Canada. They are all named Han.

The names of many Native North American groups means "The People", sometimes with variations and descriptors added. In Korea, Han has meant The First and Only People, according to language and linguistics specialists consulted at The Ohio State University—The current Korean alphabet is Han-gul, or the people's writing. In China, Han means the Chinese people and also self-control and restraint. In the Yukon Territory, the name of the tribal group, Han, translates as People of the River.

The Han Territory sits on the Canadian Yukon-Alaska border along the Yukon River. It is located about 20 km south of Dawson and extends to the north to within 50 km south of Circle, Alaska.

The Yukon Han were displaced by the Klondike Gold Rush in the early 1900s and Chief Isaac led them to new homelands. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the Han who steadfastly followed Chief Isaac and their descendants incorporated to form Chief Isaac, Inc. This is a company of legitimate shareholders that are all from Dawson City, Yukon.

Western and Southern Yukon Territory

  • Han Language Group - Located from north of Circle City AK (Where Gwich'in also reside) down through Dawson YK (see map above). Today, Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation (Han) is located in Dawson YK, being about 1,100 descendants of Han speakers, Gwich'in, and others.
  • Kwanlin Dün First Nation (formerly the Whitehorse Indian Band, see video below) and Ta'an Kwach'an Council. Whitehorse YK. The second group traces their ancestors to the Southern Tutchone speakers, the Tagish nation, and the Tlingit nation, and, about half of them live in Alaska. Chief Jim Boss of the Ta'an Kwach'an put forth the first Indigenous Land Claim in the Yukon in 1902, finally recognized in the 1970s. He was born of the Hutshi and Tagish peoples, traded with the Tlingits, and opened a roadhouse at Lake Laberge (Ta'an Man) to serve customers during the Klondike Gold Rush. Altogether, he ran about 20 successful businesses and helped to train the RCMP.
  • Liard River First Nation of the Kaska Tribal Council/Kaska Dena Nation and Lower Post First Nation. Watson Lake YK.
Carcross Desert, Yukon Territory

Carcross Desert, Yukon Territory

We who are Tagish and we who are Tlingit, our heritage has grown roots into the earth since the olden times. Therefore we are part of the earth and the water.

— Elders Statement, Carcross/Tagish First Nation

Located at Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tlingit intermarried with the Kwakiutl bands of the Pacific Northwest and some Yukon bands, bringing additional family crests and power animals with them.

Located at Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tlingit intermarried with the Kwakiutl bands of the Pacific Northwest and some Yukon bands, bringing additional family crests and power animals with them.

  • Tagish/Tlingit First Nation of Carcross YK, also found in Whitehorse.

The Tagish intermarried to a large extent with the Tlingits at one time, as did the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest. The Tlingits intermarried with many other nations. One of the great examples is the famous artist Mungo Martin and his wife.

Tribal art specializations include clan crests and power animals on "totem poles" and other art pieces, usually in the Coastal Tlingit and Tagish Athabaskan traditional designs. The Button Blanket is another favorite artistic piece of art and wardrobe element. The Wolf and Crow moeities (groups of clans) make up the community, with Wolfs and Crows to intermarry.

An official plaque at Carcross states that the Tagish Frog Clan man Skookum Jim (James Mason) discovered the first gold nugget of the Klondike Gold Rush on August 16, 1896 at Rabbit Creek.

  • Telsin Tlingit Council, Dease River Band of the Kaska Dena Nation, and other small bands. Teslin YK.
    • Clans of the Teslin Tinglit include Raven Child, Frog, Wolf, Beaver, and Eagle.
    • The Big Sinew Tribe of Inland Tlingit lives in Teslin, while a dozen others reside in Alaska, with additional bands in British Columbia - especially the Coastal Tlingit.
  • Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Alaska, USA. 320 W. Willoughby Ave., Suite 300, Juneau AK. Current genealogy tracking of related Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian persons:
  • White River Nation. Beavercreek YK.

Yukon Gold, discussed in a novel by Hubber Rolly A. Chabot

Notice how these Indigenous Peoples cross political boundaries in the above map. This seems especially true of Tlingit bands, who have been very open to other peoples for intermarriage.

The Tlingit may be a nation that has produced one of the larger arrays of descendants and cast more influences on neighboring cultures in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada than have some other indigenous peoples; note the Tsimshians, for example. They are certainly at home in the Yukon Territory.

References: Indigenous Nations of The Yukon Territory

  • Dana, Leo-Paul; Anderson, Robert B. Chapter 25: People of the river; Subsistence economy of the Han, Athabaskan People, of the Upper Yukon People; by William E, Simeone. International Handbook of Research on Indigenous Entrepreneurship. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited/Inc., UK & USA. 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2014.
  • History of Yukon First Nations People Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  • Native Languages in the Yukon Retrieved October 2, 2014.
  • Ruppert, James and Bernet, John W. Ed. Our voices : Native stories of Alaska and the Yukon. University of Nebraska Press, 2001
  • Simeone, Tonina. The Arctic: Northern Aboriginal Peoples. Special Affairs Division, Parliament of Canada. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
  • Statistics Canada. The 2011 Canadian Census; provincial and community statistics..
  • Thornton, Thomas F. Being and place among the Tlingit. University of Washington Press and Sealaska Heritage Institute. 2008

© 2014 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 10, 2014:

@DzyMsLizzy - That does sound like some enjoyment! I wonder how she likes the climate there?

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 10, 2014:

Well, he's in the Army--so I don't know how much "enjoyment" he's getting. LOL Outside of the fact that when he was home for the holidays last year, he went and got married in Las Vegas, so now that his bride has finished her local college courses, she's now with him, finishing her schooling there. I guess that's his enjoyment. ;-)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 09, 2014:

@Just Ask Susan - Thanks for the good word! Sometimes visitors to the Yukon are thoroughly surprised on their first visit.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 09, 2014:

@DzyMsLizzy - Is your grandson enjoying himself near Fairbanks? It is so different in Alaska from many of the other states. I wonder if we might find that some people still know the boundaries to the Alaska Yukon and still call it that? What fun to find out! And thanks for sharing and pinning.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 09, 2014:

@swilliams - Thanks for voting and Tweeting! The northern territories of Canada are full of interesting places, wildlife, businesses, and cultures, despite the winter climate.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 09, 2014:

@mySuccees8 - Thanks for your comment! While I've studied origins and migration patterns of Indigenous Peoples for 40+ years, I'll never have all the information, because it is immense and overwhelming. In North America, the history is at least 10,000 years old and we can't capture it all; But I notice that archaeologists are finding increasing numbers of artifacts, even whole cities in just the last couple of years and all over the globe. It's exciting.

poetryman6969 on November 08, 2014:

Wow, a lot of detail. Interesting to learn about the People of the River.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on November 08, 2014:

I can see why your hub was chosen as HOTD! Very informative and educational article Patty.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on November 08, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD! This was fascinating, and educational.

I had no idea that these aboriginal cultures were so diverse in such ancient times, or that there was any relation to such far-flung peoples as the Zulu!

I shall have to look at a larger-scale map to see where the (former) Alaskan Yukon is situated in relation to where my grandson is stationed near Fairbanks at Ft. Wainwright.

Voted up +++ shared and pinned!

swilliams on November 08, 2014:

Very interesting topic Patty Inglish! I never knew of the Aboriginal history in Canada. Very informative! Voted up and Tweeted out!

mySuccess8 on November 08, 2014:

There is a large population of indigenous people representing a rich diversity of histories living in various countries worldwide. To compile and document a history of one in a concise, but comprehensive manner, requires a lot of effort and research. You did it for this one, by also making it very interesting. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 08, 2014:

Thanks for the nice comment! They Yukon is full of wonder and contains many more sights and places of interest than we might imagine.,

whonunuwho from United States on November 08, 2014:

Very informative and interesting work. Well done my friend. whonu

Quadraincorp on November 08, 2014:

Good information

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 23, 2014:

@mckbirdbks - Thanks for the Tweets - I am Canada-manic this week!

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on October 23, 2014:

My goodness, young lady. My inbox is filled with notifications that you are writing, writing and more writing.

I am going ot admit that I skimmed this article. It looks like an interesting presentation, that does not get the same attention as other areas. In the U.S. of A. Canadian history is glossed over with quick strokes. I think if not for Alaska we would not know anything about Canada.

I'll send this over to Twitter and see if that draws any attention.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 20, 2014:

Yes, it's all very invigorating! Can't wait to find more :)

Dianna Mendez on October 19, 2014:

This is a good article on the history and background of the Yukon. I'm sure you were excited finding more information on your heritage. How wonderful!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 17, 2014:

@handymanbill - Thank you many times for voting and enjoying this Hub! I hope it brings some information that is not well known to readers everywhere.

Bill from Greensburg Pennsylvania on October 17, 2014:

Very good and Interesting hub. Voted up and interesting

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 17, 2014:

@dahoglund - I am delighted that you enjoyed this Hub and hope it does prove useful to you! Really, I could not fit everything into one article and I also have more to learn. Thanks a million for commenting!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 17, 2014:

This is an excellent hub. I know a little bit about the history of Alaska, but not much about the Canadian part of things. I may refer back to your hub when I need some information about Yukon history. Voted up, useful and beautiful. Sharing.