The first European trade goods found their way up through coastal passes into the Yukon not long after Vitus Bering sighted Mount St. Elias in July of 1741.
Some 80 years later, Fort Halkett established the inland presence of traders on the Upper Liard River.
By 1840, Robert Campbell, a clerk at Fort Halkett got orders to push into the Yukon.
A post at Frances Lake, Pelly Banks and then Fort Selkirk at the mouth of the Pelly River marked the rapid penetration of the Hudson’s Bay Company into our region.
The introduction of manufactured trade goods such as glass beads, needles, woven cloth and buttons quickly altered the way First Nations’ women made traditional clothing.
The MacBride Museum has excellent examples of traditional clothing embellished by these adopted materials.
The widely photographed outfit of Chief Jim Boss or Kashxóot has had pride of place among them.
The online photo collection of the MacBride Museum also has formally posed pictures of the Ta’an Kwäch’än leader in stylish suits and ties of the early 1900s.
Until the time of his death in 1950, Chief Jim Boss managed to bridge the gap between the traditional and the rapid, overwhelming cultural immersion experience brought on by the onslaught of the newcomers.
Remembered as a successful entrepreneur who first profited from selling food and furs to gold seekers and later firewood to keep the boilers of sternwheelers fired, his longer-lasting accomplishment must be seen as the results of his dedicated service to his people.
Chief Jim Boss early on understood that he needed to act and act decisively to protect the rights of the Ta’an Kwäch’än.
During the first years of the 1900s, he already was using new political tools such as the petition.
With it he sought to secure a land base from the Canadian government for his people.
His petition to the Canadian government in 1900 resulted in the establishment “of one of the first Indian reserves at the traditional village site near Horse Creek, known locally as Russian Town,” according to a Yukon department of Tourism and Culture website.
By 1902, Chief Boss saw the need to seek redress for the difficulties faced by his people as a result of the rapid changes occurring.
Again lobbying the federal government, he instructed his lawyer to, “Tell the king very hard that we want something for our Indians because they take our land and our game.”
His leadership and vision would inspire later generations of Yukon First Nations’ leaders.
Over the next few decades, Yukoners will again, in all likelihood, be facing some pretty dramatic changes brought on by rapidly evolving global conditions.
Will they be able to show the same ability to adapt that Chief Jim Boss did?
Will we be able to successfully adopt the needed lifestyle changes to build a truly sustainable and equitable society?
We need leaders right now across our planet who will act decisively.
The recent stay-the-course federal budget and timid election-phobic parties are not providing the vision needed.
As Chief Jim Boss’ outfit blended the new and the old we have got to craft a new outfit for ourselves that does the same.