Throughout their history, the Kaska and Slavey of today’s Ross River Dena First Nation travelled great distances across their traditional lands which stretch from northeast Yukon into the Northwest Territories (NWT). Temporary camps were established depending on the season and the fish and game habitat. After a successful hunt, or at a gathering of family groups, there was a celebration feast and hand games. The men excelled at stick gambling and the women joined in for drum dances.
Robert Campbell, a Hudson’s Bay Company trader, travelled down the Pelly River in 1843 and described a temporary camp where the Ross River community is today. A permanent settlement was established across the river in 1901.
The Kaska are members of the Athapaskan family of languages which include many separate North American groups from the NWT to the border of Mexico. The Kaska can understand the language of the Navajo and there is speculation that southern migration occurred when an Alaskan volcanic eruption spread thick ash over parts of Yukon some 1200 years ago. Several families in Ross River have Slavey ancestors and the centre of their traditional territory is Fort Norman, NWT. The Fort Norman Slavey have a strong culture and keep close ties of friendship with the Ross River Kaska people.
The Canol Road
In 1943, the American army and their contractors built a “tote” or supply road past the community of Ross River The Canol Road paralleled a short-lived oil pipeline from Camp Canol near the oil resource at Norman Wells, Northwest Territories to Whitehorse, Yukon.
The South Canol Road travels through the traditional territory of the Kaska and interior Tlingit First Nations. The North Canol travels through the traditional territory of the Kaska and Slavey of the Ross River Dena.
This seasonal road provides access to the wilderness of south central and north eastern Yukon. There are no services outside of Ross River and the North Canol Road can be very narrow, steep and slippery so travel carefully.
Watch out for the dinosaurs!
Dinosaurs roamed this country 85 million years ago. Fossil footprints discovered near Ross River led scientists to study and identify four different types of prehistoric animals that lived here 85 million years ago.
Carnosaur (flesh lizards) was a meat-eating dinosaur with sharp slicing teeth and well-develop jaw muscles. Its powerful tail counterbalanced its huge head. Carnosaurs had clawed hands on short arms and long and strong legs with bird-like, clawed feet. Adult Carnosaurs could grow to be over 50 feet tall.
Hadrosaurs (duck billed) had a rigid tail and body structure so they spent most of their time on land. Scientists believe that these dinosaurs lived in herds and migrated to nesting grounds to reproduce and lay their eggs. A newly hatched hadrosaur might be about 14 inches long and weigh less than 1.5 pounds and adults grew to 30 feet long and might weigh three tons. Their eggs were incubated in fermenting vegetation just as crocodile eggs are today.
Ornithomimus (bird mimic) was an ostrich-like dinosaur that might grow to 6 m long and 2 m tall. They had long legs with three clawed toes. Ornithomimus were relatively small and toothless with fragile and hollow bones so they used speed and intelligence to avoid enemies and compete for food. The long tail was a counterbalance during fast turns.
Euoplocephalus (well armoured head) was covered in thick leathery plates, even on its eyelids, but predators, like the carosaur, could flip it over to get at its soft belly. Adult Euoplocephalus ate huge amounts of plant material so they grew to about 6m long and could weigh 2 tons. Its wide head had a horny beak and small peg-like teeth. When attacked it used the 30 kilogram bony club at the end of its tail as a weapon.