Celebrate Arts, Culture and Heritage Trailblazers

Celebrate Arts, Culture and Heritage Trailblazers

June 19 – July 2 2020, Mapping the Way and the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association partnered to celebrate Yukon arts, culture and heritage trailblazers.

We asked the public to honour individuals who are sharing and strengthening Yukon First Nations arts, culture and heritage throughout the territory. All nominees won a small prize and two won a gift basket valued at $700.

Nominees were individuals who are sharing and strengthening Yukon First Nations arts, culture or heritage. These trailblazers are individuals who are contributing positively, working, creating, educating, or preserving Yukon First Nations arts, culture and heritage. Nominees could be a language teacher or student, artist, business person, government or NGO employees, councillor, board or committee member, elder or youth.

Below is the information about each nominee that was shared with us. Congratulations and thank you all for the work you are doing to support First Nations arts, culture and heritage.




Yvonne Jack (Draw winner)

Yvonne's strong cultural knowledge and love of people allows her to be a powerful force in healing people in Whitehouse. Her healing lodge offers many a space to reflect and grow.

Khâsha (Stephen Reid)

Khâsha, with the leadership and support of his First Nation, has dedicated himself to language revitalization. In addition to pursuing his own language learning, he has been teaching the Dän Nàkwäkhèl in an intensive language program, creating functional language speakers that builds upon the great work of all past language teachers. The Dän Kʼe Kwänjē Ghäkenīdän program inspires hope that we can grow the number of Indigenous language speakers in the Yukon. It would not have happened without Khâsha's vision, passion, and leadership.

Dwight Snowshoe

Dwight works on fostering Indigenous pride in Yukon, NWT and beyond. He is a teacher, coach and entrepreneur. As a teacher, he just finished a contract with Yukon University supporting inmates, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in acquiring professional skills. He is moving on towards taking a phys ed teaching role in high school. He also has graduate studies projects in the general area of Indigenous health, including traditional diet and traditional physical activity. As a boxing coach, he supports youth in leading a healthier lifestyle. As an entrepreneur, he developed an apparel line with a strong message: Everyday-Warrior. The apparel line includes t-shirts, hoodies and jog pants. He sells throughout Yukon and his homeland Inuvik Region of NWT. His business rapidly developed over the last 3 years, and he currently is working on expanding the reach of his message beyond Yukon and NWT.

Nicole Smith

Nicole Smith is a cultural super hero! Beyond raising her own family, she teaches Southern Tutchone language classes to both adults (at Yukon University) and children (at Whitehorse Elementary School). Nicole taught both myself and my seven year old son. She teaches language, but also gifts her learners with memorable cultural experiences, sharing her own deep values with those from many walks of life. Nicole advocates for community, the land, experiential and hands on learning, and the incorporation of First Nations worldviews. She enlightens future educators on the beauty and power that First Nations epistemology offers so that those educators can go on to be well-informed and skilled facilitators for their own students. I truly believe that Nicole is the embodiment of the actions requested by the elders who wrote Together Today for our Children Tomorrow. She continually paves the way for future leaders and inspires her Indigenous students to embrace their culture and heritage, helping them to build upon their skill set and sometimes, to reconnect with their roots. Nicole Smith is much more than a cultural trailblazer!

Teri-lee Isaac

Teri-Lee Isaac, from the wolf clan of Selkirk First Nation, is the Heritage Manager of Selkirk First Nation and has done so much for our First Nation over the years in the Heritage Department and for our First Nation in general in regards to our heritage, culture and arts. Her passion for history, culture and the arts have shown through all the traditional activities put together in her community. Not only does she help preserve the Tutchone language, culture and history, it’s really important for Teri-Lee to pass on traditional knowledge to the next generation, so we never forget who we are and where we come from.

Teresa Ward

Teresa Ward makes and sells First Nation’s bannock to locals and tourists. She also sells First Nation’s bannock mix bags in local stores around Yukon. Also, she teaches people how to make bannock. Currently, she is working on a First Nation design to go onto her bannock mix bags. Her passion is sharing a taste of cultural food.

Calvin Morberg

Calvin Morberg champions Yukon First Nations arts, culture, and heritage by openly sharing his skills with the youth. Calvin has been a carving teacher at Northern Cultural Expression Society formally known as Sundog carving program for many, many years. Morberg’s artwork is in the same ballpark as some of the carving world’s biggest names. He is kind of an underdog and deserves recognition. Calvin is a quiet, humble artist who is extremely talented. I have always admired his humble, kindhearted nature.

Luke Campbell

Luke has been dedicated to learning and teaching Southern Tutchone language. I have seen him progress because of his dedication and I have been his student and taking his classes. He’s a positive and patient teacher, he’s able to teach many levels at once. I feel he’s been an awesome role model. He has truly inspired me. I know he has had many teachers along the way, but today I wanted to give him a shout out.

Amy Tessaro

Amy is an artist who takes the time to give back to her community through her art. She has facilitated programming/stained glass teachings for Healthy Babies Healthy Generations for Kwanlin Dün First Nation and St. Elias group home for adults with disabilities. She also shared and promoted other Yukon artists.

Dennis Shorty

Dennis was born underneath a tree near Ross River. His grandmother was the midwife. He was raised by his grandparents and parents in the old traditional way of life of the Kaska Dena People. With everything he does today, he honours his ancestors. Dennis is one of ten Yukon First Nation master carvers and lives in the most remote community in Yukon, which is a 5 hours one way drive, Ross River. Even though he lives so remote he is dedicated to his roots and traditional Dena style of carving, painting and also is fluent in his language. He also writes music in his native language Kaska.

His album Gucho Hin with his band Dena Zagi was nominated for the Indigenous Music Awards and the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2018. He has won several peoples choice awards for his sculptures and was awarded with several fundings to travel with his artwork across Canada and overseas to Germany and also to attend awards ceremonies in Winnipeg and Calgary. He was, and is right now, funded through Canada Council for the Arts to teach his traditional knowledge to his remote community for one whole year to keep his dying knowledge alive.

Dennis went to Residential School for 7 years at the second worst school in Canada,  Lower Post Residential School. Even though he went through all the trauma a human being can experience he stayed a beautiful, caring and loving soul, who is considerate of his fellow beings and I mean not only humans, but also animals and the land, our mother earth.

He has overcome trauma and is a great role model for all people. He was chosen to be part of the documentary "Journeys To ADAKA" which means journey into the light coming from the dark. It is a documentary about seven Yukon First Nation artists who have made a big difference in their own and other lives and are role models in their communities, territories and worldwide. This film traveled and was shown worldwide to film festivals. In 2018, Dennis had a casting for a German production film and they fell in love with his presence on the screen. He didn't get the main role, but they wanted to include his amazing energy in their film and created a small role for him. The film title is "Fluss Des Lebens, Yukon," and was shown in Germany TV Channel ZDF in September 2019. In September 2019, there was a German TV station at his gallery/home in Ross River to do a documentary on his life, artwork and his gallery. They came to his place in rural Ross River because he was recommended by Yukon Tourism and Culture representatives in Frankfurt, Germany who came through Ross River scouting out beautiful spots for German tourism and Dennis' place was one of their destinations. “A hidden gem and treasure,” they said, “a sanctuary!”

He is a multitalented well-known and respected artist and now an elder who is steady sharing his knowledge. He is inspiring and helping our younger generations to find themselves. He is creating the connection between elders and youth through his music, and visual artwork and through his diverse workshops teachings. He teaches workshops like painting on acrylics, drum making, drum circles, copper jewellery, antler jewelry, carving wooden masks in Dena style, sharing his songs in schools and colleges. Dennis is a great storyteller and knows many of the old legends of the Kaska People. He is volunteering on many advisory boards like the Friends of the Yukon Permanent Art Collection and the MMIWIG family committee.

Ruth Johnny

Ruth is a Native Language Teacher at Nelnah Bessie John School teaching Upper Tanana.

Ruth was born and raised in Alaska by her grandmother Bessie Sam. Being raised by her grandmother, she was raised very traditionally. Once Ruth started having children of her own, she started teaching her children the traditional ways she was taught.

In 2007, Ruth applied for the Native Language Teacher position and was successful. Soon after, she started the Native Language Program at Yukon Native Language Center (Yukon College). Ruth received her Native Language Teacher certificate in 2010, then she went forward with her diploma which she received in 2012. During this process, she had many mentors, which included her husband David Johnny Sr, Mother Martha Sam, Aunt Darlene Northway both of Northway, Alaska.

In 2020 it has been 14 years that Ruth has been teaching at Nelnah Bessie John School. She is very proud of her students because they are able to understand her when she speaks Upper Tanana. The kids can introduce themselves; they can say in Upper Tanana body parts, animals and much more. Ruth is always trying to get other people to learn the language so she is always teaching words many times a day. Ruth is a trailblazer in trying to preserve the Upper Tanana Language in Beaver Creek, Yukon.

Franklin James

Frank has worked all his life for his community of Carcross. He has had a voice in the creation of the Commons, the Learning Center and other positive developments reflecting his people’s heritage in modern times. He has been a pivotal point, a bridge between the old and the new.

Victoria Castillo

Dr. Victoria Castillo is the Coordinator and Instructor for the Heritage and Culture certificate at Yukon University. Victoria has dedicated her academic career to building and maintaining collaborative partnerships with Yukon First Nations communities in order to build cultural resiliency and professional empowerment.

In partnership with Selkirk First Nation, Victoria completed her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Alberta in 2012, under the direction of Dr. Raymond Le Blanc, having conducted ethnoarchaeological research at the historic site of Fort Selkirk. Her research examined the role of cultural and economic agency of First Nations people at the site during the initial historic period of Settler and Indigenous interactions. A major component of this highly successful, community-based research was engaging and training Yukon First Nations youth in ethnographic, historical, and archaeological methods in a land-based setting.

Working in partnership with all 14 Yukon First Nations through the Yukon First Nations Heritage Group, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, Yukon University and Yukon Government, Victoria developed the Heritage and Culture Certificate in 2010 and has been coordinating and teaching in the program since. This program prepares students for work in the heritage and culture fields with a specific focus on Yukon First Nations heritage and culture management in First Nations governments. Students and faculty alike speak very highly of Victoria and the program, and especially the field school that Victoria developed. The land-based, experiential course includes work documenting and recording Yukon historic sites and archaeological excavation. The course also takes students out into several communities to learn first-hand about individual Yukon First Nations cultural centres and government heritage management programs.

Victoria’s students have progressed to successful careers in the field, including students who are now in career positions in First Nations governments and others who have entered graduate school to pursue their own research interests.

This past year, Victoria Castillo, Christine Schreyer and Tosh Southwick published ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of the Yukon’s First Peoples, a free open-source handbook that provides an in depth look at the most current research pertaining to Yukon First Nations peoples. One of the most important contributions of the book is that it provides updated information on Yukon First Peoples, including updated terminology and detailed information on traditional and contemporary Yukon Indigenous Peoples governance and artistic expressions. While previous books have documented the historical lifeways of the Yukon’s Indigenous Peoples, very few have combined information on all of the Yukon Indigenous Peoples, and there is little, easily accessible information on contemporary land claims and the Yukon Umbrella Final Agreement and why it is significant.

Ukjese van Kampen

Ukjese van Kampen has been creating and teaching First Nations art in the Yukon for decades now, as well as giving lectures and presentations in Canada and worldwide on the subject on Yukon First Nations art. He completed an archeology PHD specializing in Yukon First Nations art, and I believe his dissertation is a very important and thorough document that future generations can refer to when learning traditional art and design. He is now working on a second PHD, this time studying the spread of beadwork into Canada and eventually the Yukon, which is also a relevant area of research as beadwork is so standard here now. Many of his works can be found in collections and displays in the Yukon and worldwide.

Khàganê (Connie Jules)

Khàganê has committed and continues to commit herself to learning Tlingit language and traditional knowledge (dance, culture, oral traditions, protocols, etc.) and passing down her knowledge to those who are eager to learn. She is a fluent Tlingit speaker. In having a conversation with Khàganê, her love and passion for her Tlingit language is evident. She is also skilled in processing and preparing a moose hide and creating beautiful pieces of work that can be worn or used.

Khàganê is a team player and has amazing collaborative skills. She is a natural educator and shares her skills and knowledge with her students and colleagues. She connects well with students and knows the importance of connections and relationship building. Khàganê makes all her students feel important and she is always available to them if they require any support from her. She also takes the time to know her students and who their parents are and where they come from, she refers to her students by their First Nation names.

Khàganê has always shown a keen interest in learning about curriculum and how she can connect language and traditional knowledge into her Tlingit language class. She has developed culture and language units that tie directly to the curriculum. She has taken time to look at ways to assess First Nations ways of knowing, doing and being and to ensure that her assessment tools are personalized to each of her students.

Blake Lepine

Blake has been a trailblazer in story telling, in building from the past and learning the roots of his culture, sharing it musically, theatrically, visually and as a steward of his culture. Blake decided at the age of 20, that he wanted to fully emerge himself in the Tlingit art form and make it his primary focus of study. Blake has also taken on studies in silk screening and design, beadwork, textile work and sewing, painted leather, collage, block printing and watercolour. Blake is continually spending his free time prolifically creating artwork for both commercial and traditional uses, harvesting and researching traditional medicines, putting on community workshops, and working to train a new generation of artists, herbalists and dancers. In Fatherhood, he has beautifully developed his traditional insights.

Colleen Joe-Titus

Colleen has worked at revitalizing the southern Tutchone language over many years, in a variety of capacities.

Gushä̀ka (Grace Johnson)

Gushä́ka Johnson has been teaching Dän kʼè in the schools and will teach anyone willing to learn. She grew up learning our traditions and currently practices them and teaches to youth and adults. She is an inspiration of how I want to live my life.

Courtney Rae

Courtney has been a big contributor to Yukon Indigenous cultures and has always been a great advocate for local artists. She always has a beautiful smile and loves to work hard to make every event successful.

Paul & Kathy Birckel

Paul & Kathy Birckel were Yukon pioneers in the field of show casing Yukon First Nations talents through art, clothing and other ways. Paul & Kathy started the Yukon Native Products store in the 1980s. Kathy worked many years at the store as a manager who bought and sold art, clothing and other items. The store was very popular with Yukoners and visitors and was famous for its parkas and anoraks.

Paul & Kathy partially owned and operated a small store and museum at Klukshu, Yukon. The store was family-owned and stocked with art, clothing, earrings, and whatnots made by family and friends. The museum housed many artifacts from Kathy's great grandparents who lived in the region for over a century. Visitors would come from around the globe to buy a souvenir or smoked salmon made in Paul's smoke house. Paul, Kathy and the late Frances Joe spent many hours operating the store and telling visitors about Klukshu and the region. Visitors always asked to learn more from guided services.

Paul, as Chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in the 1980s, started a tour company called Sha Tan tours in the late 1980s. Paul saw the need of visitors traveling through the Yukon with not much information from First Nations except for what they read in the brochures from the visitor centres. Sha Tan tours created product that was marketed in the US and Canada. Some of the product included, step on guide services, salmon bakes, creation of regional booklets of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations culture, promotion of local guides such as Chuck Hume and Ron Chambers. The tour company was active for a few years and was respected by the territorial government tourism branch.

Although Paul & Kathy are in their 80s, and retired from work, they should be considered as pioneers who helped set the stage for Yukon First Nation tourism, promotion of arts and culture. Their vision and foresight was much needed in the Yukon.

Ed Auston

Ed Auston is a woodworker and has been making beautiful pieces of art (and functional furniture). In the past year, he has been making traditional-looking “beaded” bowls. He often gets many compliments on these designs - it’s something that people haven’t seen before. The process is very time consuming, but the results are similar to traditional beadwork.


Heather Von Steinhagen (draw winner)

Although Heather hasn’t grown up surrounded with her First Nations culture, she has embraced her culture and went home to experience her First Nation’s Pow WOW and has taken workshops like making a drum, participating in Assembly of First Nations selling her art work, and being part of the Emerging North exhibit. These experiences inspire some of her creations.She is a great mentor and always willing to help and share her knowledge. She is the first Indigenous Executive Director of Arts Underground and has a very robust arts career already at the age of 28.

Heather has extensive schooling in arts and arts education from Vancouver Island and Concordia Universities. She has pioneered and assisted with several amazing projects and exhibitions in local northern communities with a focus on First Nations arts, culture and heritage (including Indigenizing Wikipedia, the Red Dress project for MMIW, and an Emerging North art exhibit, among others!). She also served for an amazing, trailblazing and productive two years as Executive Director for Arts Underground. She is proud of her First Nation ancestry and works hard to incorporate her art into meaningful projects of change and awareness. She is one of the most hard-working and motivated people I know, constantly thinking, creating, inspiring, and loving.

Darian Dennis

Darian Dennis is a Yukon Native Teachers Education Program (YNTEP) student at Yukon University. She works endlessly to incorporate culture into her work as a student and as a teacher with her own students while out in the field. Darian is an artist and works primarily with beads and moose hide. She has spent the last two years in the YNTEP program sharing her art form, teaching new skills and inviting those from all walks of life to join her in the healing aspect of creating art. Darian inspires connectivity and the cultivation of shared community experiences through her art. She is most definitely a cultural trailblazer and role model worth recognizing.

Aurora Hardy

Aurora "Strong-Arms" Hardy is my best friend, but I'm not nominating her because of that, I'm nominating her because I look up to her and consider her to be an exemplary First Nations youth leader in our community of Kwanlin Dün, as well as within all of Yukon. Aurora leads with a kindness and raw honesty that is hard to find in leadership, she upholds her culture and walks the talk! When she decides she's going to do something, she does it. If you ask any of the people who know Aurora, the first thing they will tell you is she is polite, kind-hearted and always there for anyone - no matter what it is they need help with. This is why we call her "Strong-Arms," because she upholds the people! She cares deeply about our community and shows it through her work with Communications and on the Youth Advisory Committee for Council. She is also passionate about sharing our ancestor's values of kindness and love through facilitating youth workshops that tackle the hard topic of lateral violence and Indigenous history. I'm thankful I get to call Aurora my friend, and I think we should uphold and recognize her contributions to our Yukon communities. She is currently attending Mount Royal University for her Bachelor in Business Administration with a major in General Management and a minor in Indigenous Studies. Way to go Aurora!!!

Stewart Tizya

Stewart Tizya is from Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, living in Whitehorse, Yukon and belongs to the Crow Clan. He started learning how to carve back in 2008 in the school-carving program, making small projects like paddles, rattles, plaques, and traditional form line design. After graduating from high school in 2014, Stewart immediately enrolled into a beginners carving program at the Northern Cultural Expression Society (NCES); where he received hands on training in design, form line, shaping and colour-coordinating for 2 years. It challenged his skills as caver and increased his ability to create larger projects. In the spring of 2016, he stepped out of the program to attend the Art Institute of Vancouver for Digital Photography. This helped broaden his creativity that would create more opportunities within NCES. Stewart graduated from the Art Institute with a diploma in Digital Photography in 2017. He is now the official NCES photographer, taking pictures of the artists’ carvings and painting and more. Stewart is very involved with spreading his talents and knowledge within his home community. He has attended many community events including culture camps, staff strength building workshops, community unity meetings, and youth gatherings where he has taught community members the basics to carving and painting. His contribution to his community is overflowing and he is always ready to share his gifts. Thank you Stewart. “Creating art has open many opportunities to me. Teaching and learning this art form I have overcome many challenges that has helped my creativity, imagination, attention to detail. I want to continue my skills helping and teaching art.” Stewart Tizya

Teagyn Vallevand

Teagyn Vallevand is a strong Yukon leader and the kindest and most giving person I know. Her beautiful beadwork and ravens tail earrings make everyone around her feel #Tradishalicious! She speaks out about the importance of purchasing authentic Indigenous-made artwork and through her social media, urges everyone to support local artists. Teagyn is open-minded to change and shows up for those around her in any situation. She never shies away from a challenge and does not hesitates to teach someone something new - without criticism.

It makes me proud to hear her speak Łingit on the radio and that she has fully dove into learning more about her culture. She is not afraid to voice her opinion on tough topics and advocates for the inclusion of Indigenous youth in a variety of spaces. Though the facilitation of workshops and Blanket Exercises, she promotes lateral kindness and encourages reconciliation.

Michelle Carmicheal

Micheal owns and run Arctic Rose Wellness Centre in Dawson City. She is a young, powerful entrepreneur and strong community member. Her caring ways and curiosity for learning has helped her build a business that will grow arts and culture in the Yukon.

Rayven Svendsen

Rayven is a 28 year old young female of the Eagle Clan. Her family is from Teslin, Yukon. Rayven is a talented, self-taught beader (mostly!). Being involved in her beading is currently keeping her on a sober path, which she is enjoying. Rayven takes great pride in her given ability, and shares her art with friends and family, by starting her own Facebook beading site where people can purchase her items. Rayven is self-employed by her beading and is being a great role model by using her culture and tradition to keep herself grounded.

Stormy Bradley

Stormy Bradley is from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, a member of the crow clan and lives in Whitehorse, Yukon. Stormy is an artist that uses beads, hides and fur as her medium, she blends traditional knowledge to create modern designs. Through her work, she focuses on elements of her environment and uses her work to create discussion around decolonization and intersectional feminism. She has hosted a variety of workshops geared towards youth while working with elders as she is still learning and growing as an artist. Stormy has also hosted workshops honouring International Women's Day and did a series of workshops for Remembrance Day to honour our veterans. 

She travels to her community of Dawson City to work with the youth as often as her schedule will allow. She is also a member of the youth working group for gender equality through the federal department of women and gender. She has been featured in the Adäka Cultural Festival in 2018/2019 and was in the Yúk’e Artist Market 2019. She’s been featured in unorthodox Yukon, a northern art store in Whitehorse.