Means of Travel
During the annual round of hunting, fishing and gathering plants, our people travelled vast distances from river valleys through mountain passes up to the high country, travelling hundreds of kilometres throughout the year. Mostly they were on foot wearing hide moccasins. In winter, they also wore snowshoes made of babiche and sinew netted onto birch frames. Hunters wore larger snowshoes to break trail, smaller snowshoes were used on broken trails. Dogs helped pack our gear, wearing packsacks in summer or hauling sleds in winter. In later years, we adopted toboggans and dogteams.
In summer, people travelled on rivers and lakes using a variety of watercraft. Simple rafts were made from logs lashed together with willow, with one end pointed to act as a prow. Moosehide boats were made from raw hides stitched over a wooden frame. A small one person boat could be made with one or two hides. Joe Henry described a “battleship” made with 14 hides, large enough to hold a family and their dogs. The most impressive watercraft was the lightweight and graceful birchbark canoe. Up to ten metres long, the canoes had a frame of birch or spruce. Women stitched the bark onto the frame using split spruce roots then caulked the seams with softened spruce pitch. People navigated these delicate craft using paddles and, in shallow water, poles.
People were always moving on the land, following the seasonal cycles of the animals that fed them. Our ancestors travelled to visit and trade as well as to hunt and trap. Below are a few of the routes they followed.
Southwest: According to elder Mary McLeod, in fall the Hän met with other First Nations at the headwaters of the Fortymile River. They worked together to build and operate a large caribou fence. Families then packed the caribou meat down the Fortymile River in mooseskin boats. People also travelled farther southwest into the Tanana River valley, an area that was the original home of Chief Isaac.
North and East: In fall and winter, some people moved north of the Yukon River into the Ogilvie Mountains to hunt for sheep, moose and caribou. Percy Henry described a winter route during which people ascended Sheep Creek, circled north through the mountains then, in early spring, ended up at the headwaters of the Klondike River. Or they might go farther east to the Beaver River then downriver to the Stewart River. After the river ice broke up, they travelled downriver in mooseskin boats.
Southeast: One route up Coffee Creek then led inland to the headwaters of the White River, an important source of copper. Percy Henry also mentioned that in spring, after floating down the Stewart River, people travelled up the Yukon River to the mouth of the White River where they met and visited with Tutchone and Tanana people.
Even after people settled at Moosehide early in the 20th century, they still spent several weeks each year on the land, hunting and trapping.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in going after fallen moose showing toboggans, dogs in harness and family on snowshoes, 1898.
from: Tappan Adney, The Klondike Stampede, 1900.
Georgette McLeod paddles a birchbark canoe in the Yukon River. We created a replica of one of our ancestral watercraft.