For thousands of generations the First Nations people of the Yukon have moved across its landscape weaving their stories in and out the land. From the land they created cultures that withstood the passing of millennia , remaining relatively unchanged until doors of the Yukon opened to the world in the late 19th century.
Today, the First Nations of the Yukon have begun to thrive again in a new world. As they strive to protect their languages and traditions they move forward creating new stories on a new land.
There are 14 First Nations in the Yukon and 8 language groups coming from two major language families, Athapaskan and Tlingit. Of these language groups most Yukon First Nations identify themselves with one of the following dialects: Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Gwitchin, Han, Upper Tanana, Tagish, Kaska and Inland Tlingit.
Over the course of several thousand years the aboriginal people of the Yukon developed the traditions, cultures, languages and histories into what all Yukon First Nations identify with today. The First Nations of the Yukon today are: White River First Nation, Kluane First Nation, Champagne & Aishihik First Nation, Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Ta’an Kwachan Council, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Selkirk First Nation, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Teslin Tlingit Council, Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, Vuntut Gwichin First Nation, First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun and the Kaska Dene Council.
First Nations of the Kluane National Park and Reserve
The Kluane National Park and Reserve covers 21,980 square kilometers in the southwestern part of the Yukon Territory. It overlaps with the traditional territories of the Kluane First Nation and Champagne & Aishihik First Nations. In recent years, since the signing of the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations’ and the Kluane First Nation’s Final and Self-Government Agreements, these First Nations have begun the process of re-establishing the ties to this park lands and re-discovering connections to the Park.
Kluane National Park & Reserve is home to the world’s largest non-polar ice fields, vast green valleys, glacial lakes, big game and is also home to Canada’s highest mountain peak, Mount Logan. This immense mountain is located in the Tachal Region of Kluane First Nation’s traditional territory or “A Si Keyi” (Grandfathers Country in Southern Tutchone). The majority of Kluane people are of Southern Tutchone descent, however, many of its members have Tlingit and Northern Tutchone ancestry in their family backgrounds. The predominant aboriginal language spoken today in this region is Southern Tutchone, and is the language being taught to children in the Kluane area communities.
Lu’an Mun Ku Dan The Kluane Lake People or the “Lu’an Mun Ku Dan” and the Champagne & Aishihik People have lived in their traditional territories for centuries hunting, fishing, trapping and following big game. Traditionally they were nomadic people and were also accomplished trades people, acting as middlemen between the southern Inland Tlingits and Coastal Tlingits and the interior First Nations.
The nomadic lifestyle of the Southern Tutchone people remained largely unaltered over the past millennium, and it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that drastic societal and environmental changes caused the people of the Lu’an Mun and Champagne and Aishihik regions to ultimately change forever the way they lived. During the years following the Gold Rush of 1898, a slow but steady stream of gold seekers, entrepreneurs and settlers began to move into the Kluane area.
It was during this time that the First Nation people of the area started to settle at permanent locations, such as Burwash Landing, on the northern shores of Kluane Lake. The lure of steady monetary income led many First Nations people, not only in the Kluane region but in all other parts of the Yukon, to abandon traditional nomadic lifestyles.
Winding In and Winding Out In 1942, during WWII, the US Army built the Alaska Highway, connecting the "Lower 48" to Alaska. The Highway cut through the traditional territory of the Lu’an Mun and Champagne and Aishihik people and passed through Haines Junction and Burwash Landing. The impact the construction of this highway had on the people of the area was impossible to pre-determine because it was so great. Not only did it bring new people in numbers unheard of before, it also brought disease and opened the region to a steady flow of traffic. In the subsequent years a majority of the population of the people in the Kluane region perished due to diseases and epidemics that followed the construction of the Highway.
One of the biggest changes the Southern Tutchone people of the Kluane region had to deal with was the creation of the Kluane Game Sanctuary in 1943, most of which was turned into the Kluane National Park in 1972. Today the Kluane Game Sanctuary is located in some areas within the Kluane National Park the Alaska Highway and along part of the Haines Road. One of the main purposes of the creation of the Kluane Game Sanctuary was to initiate a no hunting zone in response to the over hunting in the area by military personnel and highway workers during the construction of the Alaska Highway.
What was not understood at the time was the effect it would have on the First Nations people of the area because the land in question was the traditional territory of the Lu’an Mun and Champagne and Aishihik people. The Kluane people were essentially banned from entering the land and remained on the other side of the highway for the next fifty years. It was not until recent years that the connections with that land in the Kluane National Park were once again being revisited and co-management between the First Nations and the Park.