Indigenous woman swaps Gold Rush dresses for traditional regalia at Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous
'I don't think my ancestors put their hair up. I don't think they wore frilly hats and lace gloves'
Teagyn Vallevand had mixed feelings showing up at Whitehorse's annual Civic Dinner in a moosehide dress when everyone else was dressed like it was 1898.
During Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous week, Whitehorse goes back in time to 1898 — the peak of the Klondike Gold Rush and the year Yukon joined Confederation.
Men in bowler hats, bow ties and fur coats walk down the street. Women dress as can-can dancers with feather boas and ruffled petticoats.
Vallevand is Miss Kwanlin Dün/Shakat and won first princess over the weekend. It's the first time the Kwanlin Dün First Nation put forward its own candidate in the Quest for the Crown competition to become Rendezvous Queen.
"It was such a good feeling but it was also weird because everybody was staring at me because I looked different than...what they were used to seeing at a Rendezvous event," said Vallevand.
Each candidate is given three outfits by the Quest for the Crown organizers — a tea dress, a walking dress and a ball gown. Vallevand said she tried to "Indigenize" her outfits as much as possible.
So she and a friend made the jacket for her tea dress.
"We looked up a pattern from 1898, like an old Rendezvous-style jacket. Then she found this really awesome fabric that looks like it's beadwork. So when you look at it from far away you're like 'oh my gosh your jacket is fully beaded and it's Indigenous,'" she said.
Wearing pieces of history
She also wore regalia as much as possible.
She borrowed a Tlingit head piece and button blanket made by a Kwanlin Dün artist.
The moosehide dress Vallevand wore to the Civic Dinner was worn by former Yukon Commissioner Judy Gingell in 1995. It had been hanging in the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
"I got to literally wear a piece of history!" Vallevand said.
Vallevand ended Rendezvous week wearing her very first piece of regalia to the Coronation Ball — a shawl with a raven face on the back.
Vallevand says she wore regalia in part for a more accurate portrayal of history.
"I don't think my ancestors put their hair up. I don't think they wore frilly hats and lace gloves," she said.
But she also knew she had people looking up to her.
"I also was really thinking about the young people in my community. I thought by having that culture incorporated they would be able to see themselves in me and then be able to see Rendezvous as something they can be more a part of," said Vallevand.
Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill says Rendezvous is getting better at including Indigenous culture, but there is still a way to go.
"First Nation people were really a big part of the Gold Rush. It's good to see people acknowledge that. It wasn't all boa feathers and tea dresses," Bill said.
Vallevand's hopes there will be a queen candidate from every First Nation in Yukon and for full regalia to be as normal as a feather boa at a Rendezvous event.