Aboriginal Peoples of Canada's Yukon Territory
People Who Live at the Arctic Circle
The Aboriginal 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 Aboriginals back and forth across national borders in Western Canada and USA.
Yukon Territory, Canada, Established 1898
I collected information about Plains Indians beginning in Grade 3, but progressed to college majors in psychology and Russian studies and a minor involving cultural anthropology and archeology 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.
"Larger than All of the Natural World."
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 USA and Canada.
Dawson City, Major Yukon Historical Community
One of my ancestors served in the French and Indian War at the Siege of Fort Pitt, translating for the French and British. Accessing data from the Smithsonian-National Geographic human DNA project and The Ohio State University showed the Cherokee split from Mohawk Nation and Iroquois links to Africa's Zulu Nation.
The Yukon Territory Includes Only City and Seven Towns
A full 3/4 of the territory's population live here in this city, which is the territory's only incorporated city.
Called "Dawson City" this locale is a town.
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 first inhabitants from Mexico to 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.
- Canadian Yukon - Officially, this is the Yukon Territory, abbreviated YK. Some 19th and 20rth 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 Aboriginal 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
First Nations Reserves in the 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
Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal origins out of about 36,000 residents in the territory. About 20% of these Aboriginals report the ability to speak an Aboriginal language.
Locations of Major Yukon Territory First Nation/Native Alaskan Groups and Offices
Northern end of the Han homelands. Established in 1893 on Yukon River as a logging city & boomed with business for only one year when gold was fou
The Han People.
Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation.
Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Yukon Indian Cultural Education Society and Council for Yukon Indians.
Dease River and Yukon bands and Teslin Tlingit Council.
Kaska Tribal Council.
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 Aboriginals 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 licing 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: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2007515/posts 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.
- 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.
Interior Yukon Aboriginals
- 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 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.
Near Dawson City, Yukon Territory in 1898
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 Aboriginal 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.
Current Han Lands in Alaska and Yukon Territory
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 Aboriginal 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.
"Listen to the Stories" of the Kwanlin Dun
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
Tlingit Carved Cedar Pole
- 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: http://tinyurl.com/o387a5y
- White River Nation. Beavercreek YK.
Tagish Frog Clan man Skookum Jim (James Mason)Click thumbnail to view full-size
Telsin Tlingit Council, Dease River Band, and other small bands.
"Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska" 320 W. Willoughby Ave., Suite 300, Juneau AK. Current genealogy tracking of related Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian persons is found at http://tinyurl.com/o387a5y
Tlingit Lands -- Central Council of "Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska"
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 Aboriginals; note the Tsimshians, for example. They are certainly at home in the Yukon Territory.
References: Aboriginals 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. http://tinyurl.com/mff8y7m Retrieved September 30, 2014.
- History of Yukon First Nations People www.yfnta.org/past/history.htm Retrieved October 2, 2014.
- Native Languages in the Yukon www.ynlc.ca/languages/ 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. www.parl.gc.ca/content/lop/researchpublications/prb0810-e.htm 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
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Patty Inglish MS