20 facts about Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Self-Government

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Intro
Intro
Photo: Chief Steve Taylor holds the newly signed Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Self-Government Agreement and Final Agreement. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives.

 

Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in signed their Final and Self-Government Agreements on July 16, 1998. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in developed 20 fun facts about the negotiation and signing of their agreements. Read all the facts to learn more about Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in’s journey to self-governance.

You can also read the facts directly on the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Facebook page by following the hashtag #20YearsofSelfGovernment

Fact 1
Fact 1
Photo: Chief Steve Taylor holds the newly signed Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Self-Government Agreement and Final Agreement. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives.

439 voters out of 475 voted YES to approve the Agreements—that means 92% of persons who voted, voted YES! For the purposes of 6.1 of the TH Final Agreement, which provides that persons who did not vote were effectively considered to have voted no, 76.2% of eligible voters voted yes. This was, and remains by far the strongest endorsement for any land claims agreement in the Yukon and, as we know, in Canada.

Fact 2
Fact 2
Photo: Former chiefs Steve Taylor and Percy Henry at the signing of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Self-Government and Final Agreements in 1998. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

There were two signatories of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement: Chief (at the time) Steve Taylor and former Chief Percy Henry. Both men were huge contributors to the push for self-government.

"I think some of the decisions and some of the things we have moved ahead has been very helpful to other First Nations and that they can follow along behind and benefit…from some of the trail blazing that we’ve done," said Chief Steve Taylor on the work that the community did for self-government (2008).

Fact 3
Fact 3
Photo: (l-r) Former Chiefs Peggy Kormendy, Hilda Titus, and Angie Joseph-Rear witness the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement. Credit: Martha Kates Collection

Don't forget about the amazing women who were a huge part of helping us get where we are today! 

There were 13 witnesses to the signing of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement. The first three witnesses were former Chiefs Peggy Kormendy, Hilda Titus, and Angie Joseph-Rear. Aside from Steve Taylor and Percy Henry, these three women were all of the living TH chiefs. Every person who was at one time a TH Chief signed or witnessed the Agreement.

Fact 4
Fact 4
Group portrait of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Signatories to the agreement outside on the steps of the Community Hall. Back row (l-r): Councillor Fred Taylor; Chief Steve Taylor; former Chief Percy Henry; Darren Taylor from the mapping department; Tim Gerberding from the land claims department; Councillor Arthur Christiansen; citizen Ronald Johnson; Councillor Robert Rear; Councillor Duane Taylor. Front row (l-r): citizen Edward Roberts; former Chief Hilda Titus; former Chief Angie Joseph-Rear; citizen Karen Farr; citizen Trudy Lindgren; former Chief Peggy Kormendy; Ed Kormendy from the land claims department. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

The four TH Councillors of the day—Robert Rear, Art Christiansen, Duane Taylor, and Fred Taylor—also witnessed the signing of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement. Four of the remaining witnesses were chosen so that all major TH families were represented. These families were represented by Edward Roberts, Karen Farr, Trudy Lindgren, and Ronald Johnson.

Fact 5
Fact 5
Photo: Tim Gerberding and Ed Kormendy at the signing of the Final Land Claims Agreement. Credit: Martha Kates Collection

Check out those youthful faces! 

The final two witnesses of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement were TH land claims grunts, Ed Kormendy and Tim Gerberding. Bonus fact: after 26 years of service, Tim retired in 2017. Mähsi cho, Tim, for all your hard work!

Fact 6
Fact 6
Photo: Darren Taylor signs the TH Settlement Land Maps. Credit: Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

Fact #6 features a citizen who has worn a few hats since TH became self-governing. 

Darren Taylor was a major player who did not witness the signing of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement. Instead, Darren signed the TH Settlement Land Maps. Not long after that in 1998, Darren became Chief! Now, 20 years later, he's still working on those maps at the Natural Resources department.

"It’s really a fine balance. While we look at development and economic development, we also have to respect our history and our culture and our historic sites that we have out on the land and ensure that the integrity of those sites are maintained or taken into consideration when we look at developing any particular piece of land. And then continuing to provide an adequate level of programs and services to our citizens," Darren said on implementing self-government. 

Fact 7
Fact 7
Photo: the ratification package sent out to Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in citizens. Credit: Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

The movement toward self-government was a community effort. Fact #7 recognizes those efforts. 

A big part of the amazingly high turn-out of voters was thanks to the work of the Ratification Committee, which included Margie Kormendy, Wendy Cairns, John Ferby, and Art Christiansen. The Ratification Committee provided Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens with a package of information, which consisted of a book summarizing the Umbrella Final Agreement (commissioned by the Council of Yukon First Nations), a copy of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement and Self-Government Agreement, and a video narrated by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Steve Taylor about the Agreements. Every possible action was taken to find Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people and provide them with a copy of the ratification package within a 90 day period.

Fact 8
Fact 8
Photo: Debbie and Ed's aunts and uncles pose for a photo at Moose Camp. (l-r) Jackie Semple, John Semple, Linda Chudy, and Peggy Kormendy. Credit: Debbie Nagano

Another big part of the strategy for getting all of those yes votes was to talk to the major TH families and hold workshops to communicate in simple terms why it was so important that they vote and what self-government would mean for citizens. Debbie Nagano (née Kormendy), TH’s Heritage Director, and her brother Ed Kormendy, Lands Director at the time, belong to one of the families who voted to make TH a self-governing First Nation. Their whole family was involved, talking about what the agreement would mean for them and encouraging each other to vote yes because they knew that they had to be unified.

“To pass those documents you had to get those big family groupings and make sure that the majority of the family voted, and you had to know how each other were going to vote. It had to be done globally, not individually … It’s not just moving one individual forward; it’s moving the whole community,” says Debbie speaking about how her family.

Fact 9
Fact 9
Photo: Moosehide Village. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

At the behest of the Department of Indian Affairs, most Yukon First Nations had an elected Chief and Band Council by the late 1950s. The Moosehide community, however, anticipated this trend by over 30 years and elected a council in 1921. Using traditional chieftainship combined with the Indian Affairs approach, the people of Moosehide established a simple, yet effective government that allowed Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to maintain their traditional values while mediating with the new government (Canada) on behalf of their community.

According to Elder Archie Roberts, the council looked after community matters, while the Mounted Police oversaw serious breaches of the law:

“…when people get making trouble, or something like that, they make their own court… and they pay fine. See otherwise, if it’s really serious trouble we send them to Dawson City… under the law.”

Although there were probably times that the Council was more active than others, it continued until the early 1950s, shortly before most people moved to Dawson.

Fact 10
Fact 10
Photo: Men working on the Han Fisheries Plant on Front St. in the north end of Dawson City. Behind the building the Moosehide Slide is visible. The man nearest to the building has been identified as Ed Balentine, the man on the far right is David McLeod, and the man in the middle is Joseph Joseph. Credit: Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Government Fonds, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

The transition from Moosehide Council to one based on the Indian Act was hard. There were more responsibilities and not a lot of resources. Percy Henry, who was elected Chief in 1969, set up the first government office for Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in (then named the Dawson Indian Band) in 1971. That building was known as the Hän Fisheries building. Percy told the story in a 1993 interview:

“I got that building from Clinton Creek. Clinton Creek got to know me pretty good now, because ferry operator and I used to deliver stuff for the fall for them. But when that general manager tell him I want to talk to him, ‘oh,’ he say. ‘Come right down.’ I did that. He didn’t ask why, he just said ‘come.’
So I got there—and a lot of big shot there with black suit—and he said, ‘Well, Chief is here. You got to go. Excuse us for a while.’ …
And then I tell him I really—again, I say, ‘I can’t get help, can’t get building, can’t get nothing. I have no office. So he said, ‘Well, take our one.’ He say, ‘I can’t fix it for you,’ but he say, ‘I’ll pay for the land for the next five years till we get that—that paper title.’

So he took care of land, everything. And then, once that settled, I bought it for a dollar. So that’s the way we went through.”

#20YearsofSelfGovernment

Fact 11
Fact 11
Photo: A float of people dressed in regalia. Visible is Dave Taylor on the far left, Mary or Selena Henry, and Lawrence Henry. (Others have not been identified). The banner on the side of the float reads "Together today for our children tomorrow". Credit: Percy Henry Collection, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

In February 1973, several Yukon leaders, including Percy Henry who was chief at the time, presented Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau with the document Together Today for our Children Tomorrow: A Statement of Grievances and an Approach to Settlement by the Yukon Indian People. This was the first comprehensive claim to be submitted to the Canadian government by any First Nation group and the Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Trudeau, accepted it as the basis for further negotiations. The document laid out Yukon First Nations' history and presented a way forward, setting in motion the modern land claims process.

“First, remember, there were never any wars between Indian and White in the Yukon.

Second, remember, there were no treaties signed in the Yukon.

Third, remember, the first Indian Act was designed to protect the Indian from the Whiteman. This concept was never applied in the Yukon.

These three things are important, because they combine to make the YUKON claim different from other Settlements.
The objective of the Yukon Indian people is to obtain a Settlement in place of a treaty that will help us and our children learn to live in a changing world.

We want to take part in the development of the Yukon and Canada, not stop it. But we can only participate as Indians. We will not sell our heritage for a quick buck or a temporary job.” (Taken from the document Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow, 1973)

Fact 12
Fact 12
Photo: Excerpt from May 1989 issue of Dan Sha News captioned "Steve Taylor, stops to smile for the camera, in a hectic band office. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

In 1989, the Council of Yukon Indians signed an Agreement in Principle, a document that made self-government possible. An earlier agreement had been negotiated, but was rejected in 1984 because of deal breakers such as land, extinguishment of Aboriginal rights, and the fact that only status Indians counted. The new 1989 agreement provided for more land than the rejected 1984 one, for the recognition of Aboriginal title on those lands, and the development of a model of self-government.

“Thus, Indian governments must decide

1) if they wish to accept the Federal view, and are prepared to work for self-government within the parameters established by the federal and territorial governments. This means the Indian Act and other legislation would still apply; or,

2) if they wish to establish a completely independent level of government in Canada. This type of Indian self-government would be subject only to the Canadian Constitution Act, which is the supreme law of the country, that all levels of government are subject to. This second option would provide more independence for Indian governments, but would also present great difficulties, as power would be transferred from various levels of government to the Indian governments.” (Taken from Report on the Agreement in Principle, 1988)

Fact 13
Fact 13
Photo: Chief Angie Joseph-Rear in the May 1989 issue of Dan Sha News. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

In 1990, the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed. This document was the framework for Yukon First Nations to negotiate our Final and Self-Government Agreements. Angie Joseph-Rear, Chief at the time, described the amount of work that went into negotiating these agreements.

“It was an intense negotiation. It was Umbrella Final Agreement. So it was throughout the night. And we have maybe—Federal government have about 10 negotiators and lawyers and YG had the same, but we had our own people. We had Dave Joe as our lawyer, and we had Victor Mitander as our chief negotiator. And all the chief are behind them. So we had to go and sit through all the negotiation—this the truth, that we go, we take turns to sit through the night and all. And, yeah, I called Steve Taylor and said, ‘gonna need you, so we really want you to come.’ We completed it five o’clock in the morning.

“So we come home and we took it to the Council of Yukon Indians general assembly—and it was hard work. It was hard work. And I said to Steve, ‘Steve’—gosh, it’s 1990—I said, ‘next election, please be our chief.’ And he said, ‘Angie, I’ll run for chief if you run for council’ [laughs]. He said, ‘I need you too!’ So that’s exactly what I did.”

Fact 14
Fact 14
Photo: Tim holds up the pen he used to sign the 1998 Final and Self-Government Agreements. All of the signatories of the agreement signed the pen case. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives.

So many small details had to be hammered out during the Umbrella Final Agreement negotiations. 

By 1992, four Yukon First Nations had negotiated their Final and Self-Government Agreements. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had land selections under way since the 1980s and we were ready to proceed with negotiating along with Selkirk First Nation, and Little Salmon Carmacks. The intensive negotiating period began in February 1992 and documents were delivered for legal and technical review in May 1997. One of the many challenges was developing the special provisions, including the selection of specific lands. Tim Gerberding, who was one of the land claims negotiators at the time, told us about his contribution to the Umbrella Final Agreement.

“My part in the UFA was rather small, but it did mean something. As I said, the UFA was pretty much settled by the time I started. I did attend a couple meetings at the old Council of Yukon Indians offices on Nisutlin—which has since been razed. It was an old residential school that held bad memories for people—but nevertheless, that’s where various meetings took place. And I remember going to one meeting when people were talking about Chapter 16, which is of course the Fish and Wildlife Chapter. At the time the provisions for traplines in the chapter provided that Aboriginal people in Yukon would have no less than 70% of the traplines in Yukon. So that was the threshold that applied over the whole territory. It wasn’t broken down by area or traditional territory.

“But, the difficulty with those provisions for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in, was that the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in only had about 30% of the traplines in Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory at the time, and in other areas, such as Ross River and Vuntut Gwitchin, the Aboriginal people had 100% of the traplines. So, they had such a very high percentage in a lot of these other areas that if the 70% threshold were taken across the boundary—the whole Yukon—it might not mean much of an increase for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in, who were at the time, as I see it, about 30%.

“I was a little bit shy about talking ‘cause I was new to the process and you know, these negotiations had been going on for years, and I didn’t want to be too presumptuous and intrude into a discussion when, you know, I didn’t know nearly as much as most of the other people in the room! [laughs] “But, nonetheless, I mustered my courage and I said, ‘well look, you know, that 70% threshold applied to the Yukon really doesn’t work for the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in. To make it work for us, it needs to say 70% in each traditional territory.’ And, so, that change was made.”

Fact 15
Fact 15
Photo: Andrew and Lily Baum's fish camp at Tr'ochek, ca. 1950s. According to the information provided with the photograph, they were one of the last families to live at Tr'ochek. The image features a line of drying salmon hanging between a tin building and a wall tent. Andrew is standing behind Lily at the wall tent opening with their grandchildren Ben (left) and John (right). Frank Johnson and an unidentified woman stand on the right. Credit: Roy Johnson Collection

Another challenge with selecting lands was the choice of Tr’ochek, an important heritage site for Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in. Although the site has hosted several identities since the Klondike Gold Rush, it has been an important fish camp and base for moose hunting expeditions for Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in for a long time. During the land claims process, Canada did not want TH to select any settlement land that was encumbered with mining claims, thinking (rightfully) that the mining rights could be affected. TH was not prepared to settle on that basis as the Klondike Valley was staked rim to rim with placer claims. If TH had avoided those claims, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in—who take their name from the Klondike river—would have had no settlement land in the Klondike Valley.

In 1991, TH heard that mining was occurring at Tr’ochek without a water licence. At the time it was legal to mine without a water license if there was no surficial (over the surface) discharge of water. Three TH employees took a boat to the uppermost part of the Tr’ochek flat, approaching surreptitiously by travelling up the middle of the river to well above Tr’ochek and then idling back to the upper landing. They then snuck through the trees, avoiding detection, and took pictures of the mining operation. There was a huge open pit where the mining was taking place and a vigorous flow of clear water was bursting from the pit through the gravel about 15 feet down. At the bottom of the pit, two huge caterpillar pumps were pumping the water out of the pits into an adjacent shallow pond. Two streams flowed out of the pond over the surface, one to the Klondike River and the other to the Yukon River. The TH employees took the pictures of this illegal activity to the mining recorder and a mining inspector was dispatched—but nothing happened. For three days the employees carefully monitored and recorded the activity and complained to the mining recorder, but nothing happened. The following week TH took legal action by way of interlocutory injunction (a court order to make a party stop what they’re doing until the final judgement of the case) arguing irreparable harm to the site. The mining was halted overnight.

This represented a major challenge not only to the Tr’ochek claims, but to all mining and third party activity in Yukon. We asserted that the claims were illegal because they had been staked in the absence of a land claims treaty. Our argument was based on the 1870 order, which is part of the Constitution of Canada. It states that “upon the transference of the territory in question to the Canadian Government, the claims of the Indian tribes to compensation for lands required for purposed of settlement will be considered and settled in conformity with the equitable principles which have uniformly governed the British Crown in its dealings with the aborigines.” This meant that without a treaty, no third party assignments of land were valid. All were null and void. TH argued that the Tr’ochek claims were unconstitutional as no treaty had been made that settled the claims of TH “in conformity with the equitable principles.” Canada eventually agreed to settle the litigation by paying $1 million to buy out the claims. In the end, TH won and secured the Tr’ochek Heritage Site.

Fact 16
Fact 16
Photo: Johnnie Johns, Willie Joe, Mike Smith, and Dave Joe at the Moosehide Elders Meeting held in July of 1982. This photograph is one of 29 taken by the Yukon Indian News. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives, Percy Henry Collection

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Self-Government Agreement is a document that establishes Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as a “legal person,” and ensures that we have a constitution which sets out our government structure. We have the capacity and ability to act and govern ourselves, but a particularly special feature about our law-making powers is that they supersede Yukon Government’s. Dave Joe, who went to Ottawa with Elijah Smith and Percy Henry in 1973 and was our chief negotiator during the Umbrella Final Agreement negotiations, explains why.

“We’ve got exclusive law-making authority over the rights contained in our treaty, and matters that are internal to us—like you know, we align ourselves by clan system, that’s our exclusive law-making powers—so neither Yukon or Canada could tell us how to manage our money or land or people, etc., etc. as part of our exclusive authority under 13.1. Under 13.2, we’ve got paramount concurrent authority over citizens in Yukon and to the extent of any conflict with Yukon laws, our laws would be paramount. … And, so, it’s a very diverse power. It’s not only applicable on our treaty lands and not only applicable in our respective traditional territories, but applies throughout Yukon. So if the Champagne-Aishihik were to pass a childcare law, that childcare law would follow me and my children up to Old Crow or wherever I live in Yukon and I would have to adhere to the standards and principles articulated by the Champagne-Aishihik childcare law because it’s a law over citizens in that regard… We wanted to ensure that degree of paramouncy over laws of the Yukon.

Fact 17
Fact 17
Image: Map of Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territories, including the contiguous boundaries with First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Land and Resources Department

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement is a modern-day ‘treaty’ recognized in Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act. The Final Agreement asserts and retains Aboriginal rights, titles and interests with respect to its traditional territory and, more specifically, to its settlement lands.

All Yukon First Nations have traditional territories, but only self-governing Yukon First Nations have settlement lands. For the purposes of the land claims process, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory is not legally owned by TH, but we maintain certain rights (like Aboriginal hunting rights) within the territory, and we have responsibilities and authorities regarding activities and decision-making within the traditional territory. Settlement lands, however, are legally and communally owned by the First Nation. Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in own 2,598.51 km2 of settlement land.

Bonus fact: just recently, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in and Vuntut Gwitchin Government signed an Agreement on Overlap Resolution, settling the contiguous boundary shared by each First Nation. Before, some sections of the Final Agreement dealing with natural resources were suspended until the overlap was resolved. The signing of the overlap agreement means that both TH and VG now have full authority over those sections of land.

Fact 18
Fact 18
Photo: Ronald Johnson, the Mayor of Moosehide, offers a prayer at the 2014 Moosehide Gathering. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

Although not all important sites are categorized as settlement land, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in still managed to gain important rights for those spaces too. Moosehide is an important heritage site for Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in. The Hän name for this site is Jëjik Ddhä Kek’it. Chief Isaac moved the Hän people from Tr’ochëk to Moosehide in 1897 after Tr’ochek was overrun with gold-fevered newcomers. However, archaeological investigations have established that ancestors of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in have been using the Moosehide site as early as around 8,000 years ago.

Moosehide is categorized as 91(24) land under the Canadian Constitution. This categorization of land is not quite reserve land, but Canada still retains special responsibility for it. This could make a difference if there were environmental issues that had to be addressed—Canada would have to step up to the plate.

As per the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Self Government Agreement, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in have the same authority over Moosehide as if it were settlement land, but we still maintain some of the rights that reserve lands get, like access to government programs. One of the biggest benefits of designating Moosehide this way was that we did not have to use a portion of the settlement land quantum we were given. Tim, our dedicated land claims negotiator from fact #14, shared a little anecdote.

“Well, I don’t remember all of it, but I remember, we set up certain provisions for Moosehide, which were unique and have not been replicated. Moosehide was taken down not as settlement land, but as 91(24) land, which is kind of like reserve land, but we also ended up negotiating a tax exemption for people down there, which is quite unique.

“And I remember, you know, being in a helicopter and talking into a microphone as I described, the arrangements for Moosehide and I remember that little clip [laughs] making its way to the ratification video, which, I think is kinda cool.”

Fact 19
Fact 19
Photo: Chief Eddie Taylor and Minister of Environment Elaine Taylor shake hands at Tombstone Territorial Park. Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Archives

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement provides for the creation and protection for all time of Tombstone Territorial Park. On August 28, 2009, Chief Eddie Taylor and Minister of Environment Elaine Taylor signed the Tombstone Territorial Park Management Plan. The plan provides for the protection of the natural, historic and cultural resources of the Park for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. The plan was prepared by the Park Steering Committee, half of which is made up of representatives appointed by Tr’ondek Hwech’in and the other half by Yukon Government.

“‘Our people’s history is written all over this country: in the stories our Elders tell us, in the artifacts we still find, and the animals and plants that have nourished our culture and traditions for generations,’ Chief Eddie Taylor says. ‘The Tombstone Management Plan ensures we’ll play a lead role in protecting those values.’

“‘The area in which the Tombstone Park falls had been selected by TH during the land-claims process for its heritage values and importance to TH people. This proved a contentious selection for the Yukon government of the day, who wanted the area for a park.

“Over the course of negotiations, a compromise was reached that proved to be a selling point for TH citizens. This compromise was enshrined in the Final Agreement: the area would be protected for all time as a co-managed, natural-environment park. The details of that arrangement are contained in the Tombstone Management Plan.
There were other obstacles to overcome during the development of the plan, including the staking of mining claims in the middle of the park.

“‘It hasn’t been an easy getting this plan signed,’ said Taylor, ‘which is why it feels great to finally have it completed.’

‘Congratulations and thank you to everyone— the Elders, staff and citizens—who supported this process and played a role in its success. I know our ancestors, the first people to populate the Dempster region, would smile knowing their first home in North America has been respected.’” - Taken from the October 2009 Këntra Täy (Vol. 9, Issue 4)

Fact 20
Fact 20
Photo: 1995 CYFN General Assembly. This was the first time the Hän singers sang publicly with the songs that came back from Alaska. Back row (l-r): Adam Roberts, Freda Roberts, Doris Roberts, Jason Henry, Leon Sidney, Karl Knutson, Tyson Knutson, Ronald Johnson, Benjamin Juneby, Edward Roberts, Virginia Joseph, Martha Kates, Angie Joseph-Rear. Front row: Darren Bullen??, Debbie Nagano, Waylin Nagano, Edith Robinson, Madeline deRepentigny, Kyrie Nagano, Krystle Roberts, Aurora Knutson, Jamie Roberts, Tamika Knutson, Carmen Roberts, Erika Scheffen, Marion Roberts Credit: Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department.

In 2016, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in’s vision was to “maintain our relationship to the land, preserve our heritage & culture, empower our people, and utilize land and resources within our Traditional Territory in a sustainable way that creates opportunities and prosperity for citizens.” Since Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in became self-governing in 1998, they have gradually taken on more responsibilities so they can provide more programs and services that meet these needs. As of 2018, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in has 10 departments that serve Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in citizens.

One of these departments, the Heritage department, does extensive work with Elders, Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in citizens, the Education department, researchers, and organizations such as the Yukon Native Language Centre to tell the story of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in and to revitalize our language and culture. Thanks to Elders, the Hän language workers, and the Education department, they have programs such as Aboriginal Headstart, and Hän language and culture is a part of the curriculum at Robert Service School.

Bonus fact: the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, another branch of the Heritage department, is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year! The Dänojà Zho (Long Time Ago House) teaches visitors about Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in through guided tours, displays, and performances—but we also get to enjoy the Zho with workshops, performances, events, and funny stories from Sammy and Jamie on Radio Zho!

To finish off our fact #20, we’ll leave you with this powerful quote from a play written and first performed in 1996 by seven Tr'ondëk Hwëch’in women: Margaret Kormendy, Debbie Nagano, Freda Roberts, Edith Fraser, Jackie Olson, Michelle Olson, and Kyrie Nagano. The play deals with how we were separated from land and culture and the devastation that disease, residential school, and alcoholism caused. But it also tells how we drew strength from our traditions to heal and revitalize our culture when our drum and songs were returned.

“Raven, you must fly away with our songs, dances, stories, and drums and store them where they can be protected until there comes a time when we can share them with pride and honesty… a time when we have found our power.” – Beat of the Drum