Principles and Values
Respect for the Land
We see the land and its resources as an interconnected whole in which people also play a part. We are not land owners but stewards, holding the land of our ancestors in trust for our children and generations to come. While other cultures have created large monumental structures, it is an equally impressive achievement to inhabit a land for thousands of years and leave so little trace of our presence. While we are not against development and new economic partnerships, these have to take place with consideration for our viewpoint.
Respect for our elders
Many in our modern culture tend to treat older people as out of touch and irrelevant. In First Nations cultures, we are taught to recognize our elders as the keepers of knowledge, honoured for the wisdom they share. Part of this is respecting a person’s need to be independent and take care of themselves, even if it is increasing difficult for them to move and get around.
Respect for our community and others
Our actions do not simply affect ourselves but, like a pebble hitting a still pond, can affect many others around us. Behaving badly can shame our families, embarrass our friends and hurt our community. Being a good citizen and behaving well is the best way to show respect to those around you.
The concept of reciprocity extends to every aspect of our lives. From the child who hauls firewood and water in return for elders’ stories, to young people who share the proceeds of their first hunt at a community feast, we are always affirming that we need to support and appreciate one another’s contributions. These are not specific transactions but a part of everyday life, a realization that no one can be fully independent or simply look out for themselves. Because you are aware that everyone in your community is looking out for you, you in turn do your part to take care of them.
Young people fillet salmon at First Fish Camp, learning to contribute to the community.
In this context we are talking about a person’s principles and standards, their sense of what is most important in guiding their lives. Below are brief descriptions of some First Nations core values. Many other peoples also share some or all of these values.
One of the best things parents and teachers can pass on to children are the skills and ability to obtain what they need and generally look after themselves. In traditional societies, children are taught the basics of sewing, food preparation, trapping, etc. from an early age. While we all help and support one another to some extent, ideally we should never be needy and dependent.
Community and Interconnectedness
The worldview of Yukon First Nations people, their subarctic environment, and the culture and traditions of nomadic hunter-gatherers are all interconnected. Over the generations these forces have formed and influenced each other, constantly evolving to suit the needs of the people. One constant was a seemingly contradictory sense of community and self-reliance – the notion that everyone depended on everyone else for survival but that all individuals could, and had to, take care of themselves. This sense of social obligation was at the core of the worldview. Everyone was responsible for each other in accordance with a sacred code of conduct that was critical to the survival of the people. At the same time everyone needed the skills to care for themselves in order to provide the best care for the group.
We have every reason to take pride in our people, our heritage and our accomplishments. At the same time, we do consider it rude to brag about personal achievements. Our achievements are a result of the teachings and support of those who came before and belong to them as much as ourselves.
In the early days, our peoples created everything they needed to survive in a challenging environment using only four materials: wood; stone; bone, horn and antler; and animal skins, sinews and organs. This included clothing, shelter, weapons, tools, cooking and sewing implements and means of transport.
Our people still support innovative methods of providing government services, delivering programs, teaching our children, and creating art and crafts. Our elders believe that people who have learned to survive on the land, have gained the resourcefulness to solve most problems whether it be figuring out how to repair an outboard motor or negotiate a land claim issue.
According to artist and our executive director Jackie Olson, “We have always been resourceful, using what is here.”
First Nations history reveals many examples of adaptability, the ability to survive and even thrive during times of change. If food was unavailable in one area, early peoples knew the best locations and routes to other hunting and gathering areas. When non-native people settled in our traditional territory, we adapted to their ways while still holding to what we considered essential to our cultural identitiy.
The writers and actors of the play "Beat of the Drum" on the Yukon River ice, 1996. The costumes represent the animal spirits of the Hän people.
In the early days of travelling the land, everyone had a voice and part in decision-making. Leadership was less formal and more a result of ability and/or popular opinion and group consensus. Leadership was by example rather than by command. Leaders could persuade and encourage certain behaviors but generally could not compel or force others to do what they said. This, along with a high level of mobility, meant that people “voted with their feet” rather than submitting to the will of a leader they disagreed with. This also allowed people to maintain a sense of balance and harmony. Conflicts could be avoided by moving away, usually temporarily, from the part of the group with which you disagreed. It encouraged a level of self-determination that is rarely possible in other types of societies.
First Nations people have long understood that excellent negotiation skills are needed to live well together and with others. This dates back to our communications with other First Nations, early traders and government officials and, in more recent years, during land claim negotiations and dealings with municipal, territorial and federal governments. We understand that it is important for all parties to work together to make decisions and achieve a mutually-satisfactory agreement or consensus. If this is not possible, however, our community unites to fight for what we know to be important.
Sustainability / Stewardship
One definition of sustainability is the ability of something to meet the present needs while still being able to provide for the future. This is a term that has been become very popular over the last few decades, particularly when referring to economic and resource development activity. For First Nations people this means that we have a responsibility to ensure that we look after the land so it can continue to support future generations. In this modern society, we also have a responsibility to ensure that our culture is sustainable. This means teaching our young people about their language, songs, dances and skills needed to be strong and self-reliant while understanding their place within the community.
As a citizen, you have certain rights and privileges. You also have certain obligations to your country and community. For example, while you have the right to vote for your government, it is your duty to inform yourself about those seeking office and actually exercise your right to vote.
Within the context of a First Nations community, this also means working with and supporting your family and helping to build and sustain the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.