Our land is our voice: First Nation heritage-making in the Tr’ondëk/Klondike

International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2016 (22): 568-581
David Neufeld

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The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (Long Ago House), the public face of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Tr’ondëk is a striking modern architectural feature on the Yukon river waterfront in Dawson City, Yukon (D. Neufeld).

Yukon & Western Arctic historian, David Neufeld, sets out in this paper to show how one First Nation community is actively defining their own heritage in a remote Arctic region once at the center of the Klondike Gold Rush. Beginning in the late 19th century, tens of thousands of settlers arrived in around Dawson City in hopes of striking fortune. For those who were already living there – the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in – life changed in a dramatically short period of time. Along with an interruption to daily life was a rapid diminishment of status to “exotic or barbaric and thus lower on the evolutionary ladder” (Arora 2014, 26).
What has persisted in the Yukon, as well as across the Americas, is a colonial narrative of events and culture beginning in the period of European settlement. Compounding dispossession of communities from their land and traditions, Canada’s residential school system (which began in the 1880s and continued into the mid-20th century) attempted to ‘civilize’ and actively assimilate indigenous children into the dominant Euro-Canadian culture. The legacy of this period is still very much in the minds of First Nations people in Canada today.
The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in have been exceptional in their work to engage with this traumatic period of history, as well as celebrate their own much longer history in front of national audiences at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (Long Time Ago House). Reflecting on his own work with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Neufeld gives insight into a novel case of local heritage-making and helps to envision a roadmap for the work ahead. This article also highlights the importance of being reflective of one’s own role when engaging in areas of capacity-building, particularly with First Nation communities. As the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and their allies continue this work of heritage-making – as well as seek World Heritage nomination for the Tr’ondëk/Klondike region – this may prove to be a rich and important case study for indigenous communities and heritage professionals in the coming years.
To access the paper, CLICK HERE

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