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.
Traditionally a Crow could only marry someone who was a Wolf and each side had certain responsibilities to the other. For example, women from the opposite clan helped mothers during birth. “Father’s side” relatives played an important part in raising children. At death, members of the opposite clan prepared food for relatives of the deceased person. If a Crow person died, people of the Wolf clan assisted with arrangements. A year later, the Crow people held a potlatch to thank the Wolf people for all their help.
Birth and Naming
A few weeks after the birth of a child, the father might host a feast for the community. Usually children were not named until they were old enough that parents could be sure that the child was going to survive. Often children were named after relatives who had passed on, but new names could be bestowed later to mark important events in the person’s life.
Coming of Age
In early days, our young people were mentored by parents, aunts and uncles and community elders, all teaching them the skills they needed to make a living and the values necessary to be a good person. At puberty, there were special ceremonies marking their transition to adulthood. Today we continue many of these traditions with adaptations to contemporary times.
"First" Culture Camps
Today, we foster the transition to young adulthood in different ways but still teach traditional skills and stewardship to our youth. During land-based culture camps, we aim to connect students to the land by teaching modern safety practices, together with the stories and values imparted by our elders.
The education of our children is very important to us. Two of our favourite annual celebrations are the graduation ceremonies for the pre-school children of the Aboriginal Head Start program and for our high school graduates. The students wear traditional clothing to celebrate our heritage and the entire community attends the ceremony.
For the last four decades, high school graduates from all over the Yukon have attended the Yukon First Nations graduation ceremony in Whitehorse organized by the Council of Yukon First Nations. In 2015, proud friends and family celebrated the accomplishments of 132 aboriginal graduates from 26 First Nations.
As well as being a partnership of two young people, marriage was also an alliance between families and groups. Often marriages were arranged between the families, sometimes at an early age. Elders were consulted to trace the lineage of the pair and ensure they were not related in a taboo way. Customarily a young man moved in with his wife’s family as another provider.
As with most cultures, we cope with the sadness of losing a loved one through set rituals and gatherings that help support us through our mourning. People of the opposite moiety took on the responsibility for preparing the corpse before looking after the burial or ― in the early days ― cremation. There are also accounts of a person’s remains being wrapped and placed in a tree. Thus if a Crow person died, people from the Wolf side handled any needed duties.