Step into our history image

Step into our history

Zhi Nänka Ję Sothän Huh – Northern Tutchone image

Zhi Nänka Ję Sothän Huh – Northern Tutchone

Our Land is Our Life

Throughout this land, and well beyond its borders. Before newcomers arrived, no boundaries separated us from other northern peoples.

We still cherish those close ties with relatives in Alaska, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Together, we are working to strengthen our communities after many difficult years of disruptions caused by colonization. 

In recent decades serious environmental issues have threatened our lands. We’ve experienced polluted waters and forests from mining, depletion of fish from hydro dams, and over-hunting after highway development. Above all, climate change is alarming as we witness profound, rapid changes in animal behaviours, habits and landforms.

We are not opposed to using our resources to provide opportunities for economic benefits. Development should be sustainable and socially responsible. It should not disrupt our ability to continue harvesting and practising our cultures. 

Today we unite with our neighbours in campaigns for the protection of wildlife and fragile northern ecosystems. We are deeply concerned about plans to develop the protected ANWR lands of Alaska, where every year the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate across northern Yukon to give birth to new calves. Likewise, we advocate for protection of the Peel Watershed, one of the last pristine watersheds in the world. Our representatives sit on the Yukon River International Salmon Treaty committees to migrate threats to salmon species travelling along our rivers.

For all these issues and many more we are mindful that our future, and that of the world, depends on wise decisions regarding the use of resources. As Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder Percy Henry reminds us: “Look after the land and it will look after you”.

Travel Our Heritage Trails image

Travel Our Heritage Trails

Travel was necessary year-round for hunting and gathering, but also for trade to acquire special materials like obsidian and to participate in family and clan ceremonial gatherings. We had extensive networks of trails and river routes encompassing the entire northwest.

Today we still travel our ancient trails using modern transport. Many highways follow the routes established by our people long ago – the Haines Road, Alaska Highway and Dempster Highway all take you along ancient trails.

You may see remnants of footpaths etched deep into the earth around our communities, the evidence of countless generations walking or travelling with dogs from place to place. Miles Canyon trails in Whitehorse, Tro’chëk and Crocus Bluff trails in Dawson City, and the Dena Cho Trail in Ross Rover trace our Elders’ footsteps.

Yukon River travellers may see families at summer fish camps established long ago by their great grandparents near Whitehorse, Carmacks, Fort Selkirk and Dawson City. These pathways and places hold memories and meanings, cherished and passed along as a living legacy for all people.

What’s in a Name? image

What’s in a Name?

Oral traditions and early Indigenous maps document wide-ranging travel across rugged terrain. As you explore the Yukon you may wonder how our people found their way across this immense landscape before modern maps and GPS. Of course, the wisdom of past generations provided expert knowledge of landforms, but how did they remember so many features and places to support long distance travel?

In fact, our people employed sophisticated Indigenous language place names to identify water and land features. Place names often referred to the colour or shape of a feature such as a hill that could be seen from a distance providing a way-finding marker. Many creeks, rivers or lakes were named for particular food resources such as fish, berries or medicinal plants. In other cases, names memorialized an important person or event. Names had associated stories that helped people remember and pass on information orally with the expectation young people would listen carefully to details that could be essential for survival.

Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow image

Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow

Yukon Indigenous People long ago developed social networks and cultural practices to govern ourselves. We cherish elders and youth as anchors of our continued well-being.

After the 1800s newcomers introduced profound changes, bringing diseases that decimated our people, along with new beliefs, residential schools and government policies.

Following World War II our leaders re-examined the changes overtaking our lives. In 1973 they wrote a ground-breaking document entitled Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow outlining claims to lands, resources and autonomy. Our Chiefs went to Ottawa to present it to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, beginning the long journey to re-establish our self-governing nations.

In 1993 Yukon First Nations signed an Umbrella Final Agreement, a modern treaty with Canada and the Yukon enshrined in Canada’s Constitution. It defines the rights of First Nations to govern lands, resources, justice, education, heritage and culture. A key achievement is our authority to educate our youth. Our children now attend community schools close to family who nurture traditional skills, languages, and cultural practices alongside contemporary lessons.

Eleven Yukon First Nations signed Land Claims and Self-Government Agreements, while three continue to work on future forms of governance. Together we are building new relationships for all Yukon people today, and for all our children tomorrow.

Since the 1970’s, our annual First Nations Graduation Ceremony has honoured thousands of high school graduates who have gone on to earn diplomas and degrees as administrators, educators, cultural workers, nurses, lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. We are proud of them all!

Enduring Languages image

Enduring Languages

In the Yukon there are eight different First Nations language groups. Inland Tlingit is closely related to languages spoken on the Alaska coast, while the others are part of the Athapaskan languages spoken from Alaska through the Canadian Northwest and as far south as Arizona and New Mexico.

Yukon First Nations languages were devastated by the imposition of policies in residential schools that forbade children to speak their first languages. Within a few decades from the 1950s to the 1970s, most young people ceased to be active speakers. Yukon’s Indigenous languages remain, however, a vital link to the traditional knowledge of Elders in every region. Place names, personal names, genealogical information, and natural resources data are all captured in these heritage languages.

Our oldest Elders are fluent, everyday speakers and we are working hard to bring back their languages for our young people. Today First Nations governments sponsor language classes in their communities for adults, and youth study the languages in most Yukon schools. Many young people are intent on becoming fluent again, as part of the burgeoning focus on their indigenous cultural practices. Dance groups, singer/songwriter, visual and performing artists in many genres include Indigenous languages as a keystone element of their art. Cultural ‘headstart’ programs, Indigenous language ‘nests’ for preschool children, and adult language immersion programs are underway.

As you travel in our communities, visiting festivals and cultural displays, listen for drumming, songs, and conversations in our languages – you’ll be transported to places that are unique in the world. You can only hear it here!

Sah Dena Nuguditshi – Telling Our Ancestors’ Stories image

Sah Dena Nuguditshi – Telling Our Ancestors’ Stories

Some Elders tell the beginning of the world long, long ago when Crow (Raven) brought light to the people. Others tell of Game Mother who stretched a sinew net across four mountain peaks near Carcross and brought all the animals into the world.

Throughout the Yukon our people have preserved many different oral traditions passed down from our ancestors. They continue to tell them to younger generations, guiding us to live well together, sharing our resources and striving for harmony with all life on the earth.

Respect for the land and for animals is deeply rooted in our culture. Gwich’in speak of early times when humans and caribou were close relatives, easily communicating with each other. Hunters today give thanks to animals that provide sustenance to their communities.

Tutchone and Kaska traditions speak of the giant animals that once roamed the Yukon. Our ancestors adapted weapons and tools to deal with them, along with strategies for keeping families safe. Alice Watson Broadhagen’s story of the woolly mammoth illustrates how the wisdom of Elders and the courage of people acting together provided security for the community.

Our children continue to learn about appropriate behaviour and life-long responsibilities from their Elders, parents, aunties and uncles as heard in Hän, Upper Tanana, Inland Tlingit and Tagish stories. Living and working together is our way – our stories give us strength for now and all future events.

Edgédéh Cho - Kaska image

Edgédéh Cho - Kaska

The Story of the Woolly Mammoth

A long time ago people camped near the present Watson Lake campground settling fishnets under the ice.

One old woman heard a big noise. People spotted tracks, bigger than a moose. Suddenly a large animal like an elephant appeared.

The mammoth grabbed two children with its trunk. People panicked. Old women shouted: “grab long poles! Crawl on the ice to the island.” Everyone got across safely.

Old woman says “Light a fire. Sing! Drum!” The mammoth, roaring and stomping, starting across the ice. Old woman yelled, “Keep singing and drumming!” The mammoth came closer. People hid. But not Old Woman. She drummed and sang spiritual songs until at last the ice opened up with a loud boom and the mammoth disappeared under the water. Everyone came out of the bushes, crying and singing, relieved to be alive. They honoured Old Woman with a feast.

To this day Kaska people consider the island sacred and believe the mammoth’s bones are on the lake bottom.

The Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association (YFNCT) is a non-profit, stakeholder-based organization that is committed to growing and promoting vibrant and sustainable arts/culture and tourism sectors.

Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association
1-1109 Front Street (White Pass Building)
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A-5G4

Phone 867.667.7698

Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)