Our ancestors have lived here for more than 8,000 years, respecting the plants and animals that sustain us and living in rhythm with the land.
Nän K’ałädàtth’ät (Changing Times, Continuing Ways)
In the 1890s, guch’an (non-natives) came into this country searching for local mining and trading opportunities, while others passed through en route to the Klondike. Trading posts were established in new areas. Outsiders brought not only new goods such as metal traps, dishes, rice and tea, but also social change. They gave our people English names, such as Isaac Chief, Big Lake Joe and Hutchi Charlie, and initiated some of the family names carried on today.
The lives and live-ways of our people during these decades were focused on the land, continuing the hunting, fishing and trapping ways of our ancestors. Danā (money), however, was now part of our lives and came from trapping, guiding big game hunters and jobs in mining. Dän began to be directly impacted by the government of the newcomers, and its local representative of change, the Indian Agent. Global events, such as the 1818 world flu epidemic, had devastating local impacts.
Hak’al nän kay Kwätth’al Kwäch’e (Rapid and Profound Change)
In 1942-43, the Dän traditional territory was changed forever. The building of the Alaska Highway and the Haines and Aishihik roads brought newcomers and new ways. Government control through the Indian Act now began to play a major role, determining where people could live and what they could do. Not allowed to vote, own property or a business, Champagne and Aishihik people were second-class citizens in their own homeland being forced to assimilate.
Many Dän children were sent to residential schools. Government also confiscated children and adopted them out to non-natives. Devastating experiences were common for those who survived residential school or the experience of being raised in a different culture. Living in DIA (Department of Indian Affairs) houses in larger multi-cultural communities was something new. Racism was commonly experienced. Diseases such as tuberculosis and measles took their toll. The new economy, language, religion, educational system and legal system contributed to a sense of confusion and loss of identity.
The negative experiences of the 20th century have affected multiple generations and are still being dealt with today. We are hopeful for the future and know that sharing the stories and ways of our ancestors, and learning about their strength and wisdom, helps us with our healing journey.
The Journey to Self-Government
In 1973, Yukon First Nation leaders presented the document Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa. Champagne and Aishihik’s Elijah Smith, Harry Allen and Dave Joe were leaders in the Yukon-wide land claims negotiation process and instrumental in crafting the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA) for all Yukoners. This document established the overall framework for a new relationship between Yukon Indian (the term at that time) people and the governments of Canada and Yukon.
The Champagne and Aishihik Nation was one of the first four to negotiate its own final land claims agreement. The process, started by Chief Ray Jackson and completed under the leadership of Chief Paul Birckel, was complex and long. There were countless meetings and negotiation sessions and many trips to Ottawa. Our Final Agreement was signed on May 29, 1993 and became effective on February 14th, 1995.
What does Self-Government mean?
“We, the Indians of the Yukon, object to…being treated like squatters in our own country. We accepted the white man in this country, fed him, looked after him when he was sick, showed him the way of the North, helped him to find the gold, helped him build, and respected him in his own rights. For this we have received little in return. We feel the people of the North owe us a great deal and would like the Government of Canada to see that we get a fair settlement for use of the land. There was no treaty signed in this Country, and they tell me the land still belongs to the Indians. There were no battles fought between the whites and the Indians for this land.”
– Tämbey (Elijah Smith) Käjèt (Crow clan)
Read more at Mapping The Way.