Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin jit ninä̀nkäk dähònchʼe*
*Welcome to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Traditional Territory
We are the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Klondike Valley is our homeland. Our citizens trace their roots to Gwich’in, Hän and Northern Tutchone cultural groups. We also maintain kinship ties to communities in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Since the mid-1800s, we have shared our home with newcomers from around the world. The people of the Klondike Valley have a long history of living and working together. Our tradition of adapting to new challenges culminated in 1998 with the signing of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final and Self-Government Agreements. These landmark documents solidify our commitment to building a healthy future for all Yukoners in the Klondike Valley.
The Klondike River is a rich environment for hunting, fishing, berry picking, gold mining and recreational activities.The original name for Klondike is a mispronunciation of Hän names Tr’ondëk or Kl’o ndëk. Tr’ondëk refers to special rocks used to hammer in salmon fishing weirs at the mouth of the river. Kl’o ndëk means “water flowing through grass”. The banks of the Klondike River were once lush and grassy from the mouth to the headwaters. Years of dredging have torn up much of the lower valley.
A Diversity of Wealth
For generations, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in relied on the abundant resources of the Klondike River Valley. In July, people harvested king salmon at Tr’ochëk, a major fish camp at the mouth of the Klondike. In the fall, they travelled up the valley to hunt moose, and pick berries and other plants to cache for the long winter. Grayling fishing is an important spring tradition still practiced today.Industrial activity related to gold mining and highway construction left a heavy mark on the Klondike Valley. A prominent feature on the landscape is tailing piles left by dredges searching for gold in the early 1900s. Despite this, plants and animals once again thrive in this resilient land. For the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the wealth provided by the Klondike River Valley extends beyond gold. The river enriches our community, connects us to the land and to each other. It is this wealth that will sustain our community in the future.
“… every place name, every tributary, every river system … has names in our original languages… our ancestors traveled every inch of these important river systems...”
- Gerald Isaac, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder
Prior to the construction of the Klondike Highway in the 1950s, the Klondike River was the main travel route in the valley. When the water flowed, people travelled along the river using birch bark canoes, moose skin boats and rafts. When the ice formed, people travelled by foot, using snowshoes and dogs to pack supplies. Today, recreational travel opportunities abound in the Klondike River. In the summer, people travel down the river in canoes and rafts. In the winter, people enjoy snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling. Others join forces with their dogs to “mush” and skijor through the valley.
Selling game meat, or market hunting, was an important source of income for many First Nation families during the 1890s and early 1900s. Market hunting allowed the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to live and travel as they had for generations. They used traditional skills and knowledge while adapting to a new cash economy. Thousands of newcomers to Dawson City relied on this commercial harvest. Moose was the primary species harvested in the Klondike Valley but hunters also sold caribou and sheep meat. In 1921, Dawson meat dealers purchased 3,220 kg of moose and 1,633 kg of caribou. Overhunting led to a decline in game in Dawson area. In 1920, new regulations required every market hunter to obtain a license, restricting many First Nation hunters. In 1947, Yukon banned market hunting and a number of First Nation families lost their income. These restrictions eased with the signing of the 1998 Final Land Claim Agreement, protecting Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in hunting rights within their land. Guided by traditional laws, the Tr’ondek Hwëch’in are active stewards of wildlife. They care for the Klondike Valley by carefully using and respecting its many resources.
“All Klondike belong my people…White man kills all moose and caribou near Dawson, which is owned by Moosehide. Injun everywhere have own hunting grounds. Moosehides hunt up Klondike, up Sixtymile, up Twentymile [rivers], but game is all gone.” - Chief Isaac quoted in Dawson Daily News, December 15, 1911
Family Wood Camps
At the turn of the 20th century, wood fueled homes, river transport and gold extraction among Yukon’s growing population. During the long, cold winters, Yukoners burned tons of wood to keep warm. In the summer, increasing use of steam-powered sternwheelers created a constant demand for wood. To supply these boats, wood camps were established every 35 to 65 km along the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Operating a wood camp became a common way of life amongst the Trondëk Hwëch’in. Families living in remote bush camps could temporarily join a wood cutting operation. This allowed them to maintain a traditional way of life at fish camps and on the trapline while providing an additional source of income. The opening of the Klondike Highway in the 1950s triggered the end of the sternwheeler era. The need for wood on such a massive scale rapidly dwindled. Wood camps shut down and people moved from river camps into towns in search of new economic opportunities.
Gold miners in the Klondike Valley encountered a natural barrier in the form of permafrost. While Klondikers originally used open fires, they soon discovered that wood-boilers which produced steam would melt the frozen ground more quickly. An average of 100,000 cords of wood was consumed annually during the boom years. Wood along the Klondike Valley was reserved for use by miners. The area was rapidly stripped of old growth trees.
“I more or less grew up in the bush, especially up the Klondike Valley, that’s where my parents resided. My father cut wood for firewood cause back then people in Dawson were burning wood for heat. We stayed there year-round, in a tent. And we more or less lived off the land, so we had pretty good life, a healthy life.”
- Ronald Johnson, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder
The Trapline: An Enduring Tradition
The Klondike Valley is a rich source of furbearing animals including wolf, wolverine, mink, fox and weasel. Abundant lynx and marten populations provide a consistent resource base for the long-standing tradition of trapping. Yukon First Nations have always employed traps and snares to harvest animals for food and fur. With the advent of the fur trade, First Nations began to trap for cash and trade goods. They incorporated new technologies to expand their traditional economy and generate wealth. Over 400 Yukoners hold trapping licenses. Approximately 50% of Yukon trappers are First Nation. Many local families continue to run trap lines in the Klondike Valley. There is a significant economic value in trapping. It is an important winter revenue source in small communities when unemployment is high. Many trappers pursue the occupation for its unique lifestyle. It provides an opportunity for self-employment in one the best working environments – the great outdoors.
Generations of First Nations and non-First Nations have participated in this important northern industry. Yukon trappers monitor furbearing populations and habitats to ensure they take a sustainable harvest. Trapping is a way of life with strong social and cultural traditions. Passing on this important tradition teaches the next generation to care for the land.
“Once you have set the trap … you have an obligation to tend that trap faithfully and be prepared when you catch something to tend to that fur. That’s a priority… you do your skinning first so it doesn’t get tainted or anything like that and it produces the best pelt.”
- Jack Fraser, Dawson resident
Mähsịʼ ninänkäk nigha nähjal tsʼą̀̈ ʼ shò trʼìnląy. Mähsįʼ ninän hǫzǫ kʼä̀nä̀cha.*
Thank you for visiting us. Enjoy your stay and treat our land and our cultures with respect.
→ Next Tailing Piles
← Previous Tintina Trench