Our people have always come together to celebrate times of plenty and commemorate important life events. These were times to meet with people from other areas, visit, trade and inter-marry. A complex set of relationships set out everyone’s responsibilities during these occasions. Today we still draw on these traditions to mark significant milestones in our lives.
Potlatches & Feasts
The term potlatch or potlach is a Chinook jargon word meaning “to give.” The term comes from peoples of the Pacific Coast but was later used to describe similar ceremonies held by other groups. These ceremonies were a way to publicly confirm important life events such as births, coming of age, marriages and deaths.
Elder Frank Blanchard and Jody Beaumont at a trapping workshop with Hän language kindergarten class, 2012.
Rites of Passage
In one important way, most Yukon First Nations people have their place in the world determined at birth. They are born into one of two main clans or moieties, Wolf or Crow. This is a matrilineal designation passed on through the mother. If your mother is from the Crow clan, so are you; if she is a Wolf, her children are also members of the Wolf clan. This was the basis for a web of kinship responsibilities and obligations from birth to death. In addition, a number of Yukon First Nations also belong to clans.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in hold a dance in the Alaska Commercial Co. yard in Dawson on Victoria Day, May 24,1901.
Goetzman photographer.Yukon Archives #6290, Bill Roozeboom coll.