Imagine that your homeland is suddenly overrun by newcomers. They occupy your fish camp sites and hunting areas then claim them for a faraway monarch and government. Many of your hunting grounds are ravaged by mining activity driving the game far away. Hordes of people — with no knowledge of wilderness living — burn large areas of forest with their untended campfires, and casually slaughter animals often wasting much of the meat. You are told that you can no longer occupy your lands but must move to small plots of land on the outskirts of the new non-native communities. Your people suddenly begin dying of illnesses and epidemics due to diseases, conveyed by the newcomers, for which you have no resistance. Our ancestors experienced thousands of years of enduring and adapting to change but this was our greatest challenge yet.
Government from Afar
The Canadian government was slow to take responsibility for this remote area of the country until it became apparent that many of the newcomers were staying on after the initial rush. While the federal and territorial governments failed to formally recognize our ancestors, many of their actions affected our lives in profound ways.
Relocation to Moosehide
Tr’ochëk, the fish camp at the mouth of the Klondike River, was at the heart of our traditional territory. Our name, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, refers to our ancient connection to this site. When the new townsite of Dawson City filled up and overflowed across the river, Tr’ochëk was overrun by the new community informally known as Lousetown and later renamed Klondike City.
The Indian Act
Enacted in 1876, the Indian Act was intended to manage the treaties and rights of First Nations people that had first been acknowledged by the British government in 1763. In reality, it set the stage for a series of paternalistic Canadian government policies that controlled every aspect of our lives. The Act and its many subsequent revisions determined who among us was a real or “status Indian”, banned many of our traditional activities, and deprived us of many of the rights enjoyed by other Canadians unless we willingly renounced our “Indian” heritage.
It is difficult to comprehend the devastating impacts of all the diseases that have ravaged the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and other Yukon First Nations since well before the Klondike Gold Rush. Aboriginal people lacked any resistance to the various diseases introduced by the newcomers.
"This is not an aboriginal story. This is not only about the experience of those who were students in the school. This is also the story about Canada's experience. While they were indoctrinating aboriginal people into believing that their people were inferior, their languages were irrelevant, their cultures were not worth protecting, the very same message was being given to students in public schools in this country."
Justice Murray Sinclair, 2015