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Yukon First Nations host peace ceremony at Kluane National Park

In a traditional ceremony Friday, two First Nations made peace with staff at Kluane National Park and Reserve and forgave the government for keeping them off their traditional lands for more than six decades.

In a traditional ceremony Friday, two First Nations made peace with staff at Kluane National Park and Reserveand forgave the government for keeping them off their traditional lands for more than six decades.

The ceremony, called Ka'kon or "making peace" in the Southern Tutchone language, is used to "heal past quarrels and make peace between rivals or those who have been opposing each other," according to the Kluane First Nation's website.

The Kluane and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations hosted the Ka'kon ceremony Friday at the national park, located in the Yukon's southwestern corner. The First Nations are alsoholding an information exchange with park staff.

"There's good feelings now, not bad feelings," elder Trudy McLeod said."People can smile and smile honestly now, instead of a forced one, you know?"

Kluane National Park began as a game sanctuary in 1943, when the federal government set aside 25,000 square kilometres of land south of the Alaska Highway. The area was made into a national park in 1972, and includes Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain.

Champagne and Aishihik elder Paddy Jim was a young man in 1943 when the land was made into a game sanctuary. Jim said he remembers how his elders would walk the trails with pack dogs, hunting along the way.

Over the past 14 years, with the settlement of land claims, people of both First Nations have been allowed to pursue subsistence game hunting and other traditional activities within park boundaries again. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations signeda land claim agreement with Ottawa in 1993, while the Kluane First Nation signed in 2003.

"The final agreements are quite clear that subsistence rights are certainly permitted in the park," Kluane park superintendent Michael Riseborough said.

Over the last four years, the two First Nations have been reintroducing their members to the park, as well as making sure members and park staff are comfortable with each other.

Champagne and Aishihik Chief Diane Strand said most visitors to the national park have understood and accepted the First Nations' presence in the park. As for those who question it, "that's just their perspective and this is our life," she said.

"We've been doing this for thousands of years."

Friday's forgiveness ceremony ensures that the two sides can move on to manage the park lands together, Strand said. As for the future, she said she hopes they can continue to reacquaint themselves with the park.

"I'm totally optimistic about that," she said. "The project has really helped us get to know more about the traditional knowledge of the area, and I just see this being a nice little stepping stone for us for the future."

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