6th-annual Adäka Cultural Festival kicks off in Whitehorse

Hand games, story telling and toe-tapping jigging are all part of the seven-day Adäka Cultural Festival taking place in Whitehorse.

7-day event offers workshops on everything from Tlingit designs to totem carving to birch-bark basketry

Half an hour before the the Adäka jigging contest was scheduled to start on Saturday afternoon, the best seats were already filled up. 

Steve Wallach of Athabasca, Alta., had never seen jigging before, and managed to snag some seats in the second row.

Earlier in the day, he and his wife took in a hand games demonstration and a performance by the Tuktoyaktuk Siglit Drummers and Dancers. Like the jigging, the events are part of the seven-day Adäka Cultural Festival taking place in Whitehorse. 

"It's pretty cool stuff," Wallach said. "There's a lot of interesting native culture here that I haven't really paid much attention to previously, so it's very interesting."

Adäka, which means "coming into the light" in Southern Tutchone, showcases Yukon and neighbouring First Nations people through music, arts, cultural demonstrations and workshops. The festival is now in it's sixth year. 

Make your own Tlingit design

Megan Jensen wasn't able to attend the jigging contest because she was busy face painting in the kids tent all day, although faces aren't the artist's usual medium. 

Megan Jensen, 21, of Carcross Tagish First Nation, just finished her first year at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. (Karen McColl/CBC)

On Sunday, the 21-year-old is leading a workshop on Tlingit design and will get participants creating their own art on canvas using paints or pastels. 

A member of Carcross Tagish First Nation, Jensen says she combines historical shapes and forms with contemporary styles when she's painting. 

"I take what I have learned from our ancestors but I also acknowledge... what it mean to be a young Indigenous youth of the present and how that influences my art form."

Jensen's workshop is one of several daily workshops taking place throughout the festival. 

'We dance for them'

Jensen was winding down her day in the kids tent just as the fiddle music at the jigging contest was fading in the nearby Longhouse of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. 
Shirley Frost says the subtle regional differences in jigging styles were probably only discernible by the judges, who were from Old Crow, Fort MacPherson and Tuktoyaktuk. (Karen McColl/CBC)

An energetic Shirley Frost emceed the jigging competition, which included competitors from Alaska, the Mackenzie Delta and the local area. 

Frost says jigging is a mix of traditional dancing with drums and the addition of the fiddle, which she says was introduced about 200 years ago. 

She says jigging is a way of celebrating, even for those who can't dance.  

"A lot of elders... aren't able to dance any more, but they can sit up all night and watch us dance and we dance for them," she says. "We feed each others' spirits."

Adäka Cultural Festival runs until Thursday, July 7.