Yukon First Nation rebuilds heritage through biennial Moosehide Gatherings

Members of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation host a celebration of the Han culture every two years.

Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation members host celebration of Han culture every 2 years

About 1,000 people were fed, entertained and enlightened at the Moosehide Gathering outside Dawson City, Yukon, over the weekend. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Members of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in First Nation celebrated their heritage this weekend at a celebration aimed at restoring their culture.

The Moosehide Gathering takes place once every two years just outside Dawson City, Yukon.

Tr'ondek Hwech'in Chief Roberta Joseph said she grew up wishing she could learn the songs of her people from long ago. 

"In my generation, I never knew that we had songs and I always wished that we did, and if we did it would have been nice to learn those songs back," said Joseph.

In the late 1800s, the local Han people's way of life was threatened by tens of thousands of gold seekers flooding into the region, in what became known as the Klondike Gold Rush.

Their leader, Chief Isaac, realizing their culture and traditions were at risk, sent a dancing stick and knowledge of Tr'ondek Hwech'in traditional songs to Han relatives in Alaska.

Since 1993, the songs have gradually been brought back to the Han people by their Alaskan relatives at the Moosehide Gatherings. 

Georgette McLeod, the Han language administrator for the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, said she wants to learn the songs and share them with the next generation.

"These are things that are integral to our culture and I really want to see them come back home again," she said.

Tr'ondek Hwech'in Chief Roberta Joseph says restoring the First Nation's heritage has been a lifelong goal. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Chief Joseph said some of the songs are so difficult to learn, it will take time for them to be sung again, but that's what the gathering is about.

"Revitalizing our culture and traditions, it empowers us and gives us self-confidence and gives back our identity to us," she said.

Yukon Indigenous culture, heritage and craftsmanship were on display at the gathering, which takes place every two years. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"So in order to gain our songs back from our teachers over there, we had to hold the Moosehide Gathering potlatches."

This year's gathering also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the signing of Tr'ondek Hwech'in's land claim and self-government agreements.

With files from Mike Rudyk