Minnie Clark is a born and raised Yukoner, a proud citizen of the Teslin Tlingit Council, and renowned artist. Her traditional name is Khagane and she is from the Dakl’awedi Clan. She grew up in the Johnson’s Crossing area of the Southern Yukon with her parents and four siblings. They operated a trapline, which she continues to do each winter.
Minnie’s grandfather, Jake Jackson, was a Shaman and Clan Leader of the Deshitan people. Her grandmother, Mary Sidney, was Yanyedi from the Wolf Lake region. Together, they ran a homestead in the Brooks Brook area. It was her grandfather who gifted the family trapline to her mother Pansy, as a wedding present, when she married her lifelong partner, Les Allen.
Growing up without electricity and running water made space for a lot of hard work. The kids would help by cutting firewood and hauling water up from the river. Saturday nights were designated for laundry and baths. One of the big jobs the kids had was digging out the basement for their family home over two summers, using only a wheelbarrow and a few shovels. They attended elementary school in Teslin, utilizing the two hours spent daily on the school bus for homework. It was usually dark when they arrived home and they had a long list of chores to complete. In their free time, they read books sent from their dad’s family in England, listened to classical music played on a battery powered record player, and observed or made art with their parents.
Her father frequently painted, sparking an interest in Minnie and he eventually passed down his paints to her. He would tell her to make a frame with her hands, to practice composition – a skill that later played a great role in her photography career. Her mother practiced beading, sewing, and the traditional Tlingit methods for tanning hides, which Pansy used to create beautiful moccasins, mittens and clothing to sell. She would also get fabric from the rummage sales in Teslin to make clothing for the kids. Pansy was always working on a new project and shared her knowledge with her children, or anyone else who asked.
Minnie graduated from high school in 1978 and then got a job with the Yukon Forestry department. With her first paycheck, she bought a camera from the Sears catalogue. From that day on, Minnie has carried a camera with her, always on the lookout for that perfect shot.
When her parents moved into Whitehorse, being able to capture images of the land to share the changing seasons with them was a major motivator for her. Her mother’s preference for bright colours and different shades of purple has translated into Minnie’s photography and beadwork. Her love of the outdoors and for sharing its unique beauty with others comes from her parents and her childhood.
Minnie is a self-taught photographer. When she transitioned to a digital camera she spent many long evenings taking notes and flipping through the manual to learn all its functions. Her patience has grown along with her practice. She’s spent many hours tracking the northern lights and watching animals. While observing wildlife, often hidden in a snowbank, she contemplates what the animal could be thinking, using this time for reflection and meditation. She tries to take photos every day, either on the land or for portraits, weddings, and freelancing for the Whitehorse Star.
Since retiring, Minnie has more time for her art, although she’s maintained a very busy lifestyle. She owns and operates the Timberpoint Campground with her husband Jim in the summer, and in the winter, she still runs the family trapline. She uses the furs and hides for various projects, such as shawls, scarves, and moccasins. Recently, she’s been teaching workshops in Teslin and hosting a ladies’ sewing group. She finds inspiration from their discussions about colours and project ideas, the sharing of patterns with one another and exchanging supplies.
Minnie holds close to her heart what she’s been told from a young age – the importance of teaching and sharing knowledge with one another. Her grannie, mother and aunties all placed a huge emphasis on this, explaining that this is how to keep a culture alive. Her photographs are a gift to those who might not be able to see the beauty of the territory – she makes these beautiful views accessible to all on her website. This act of sharing the colours, animals and vast spaces of the Yukon is at the center of her art practice. Her work can be found at The Nisutlin Trading Post in Teslin, or through her Facebook, Instagram or Flickr page.
Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association
1-1109 Front Street (White Pass Building)
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A-5G4