Inuvialuit celebrations outside settlement area mark firsts

Underwood Day weaves a wooden stick through his legs, never losing grasp of opposing ends. He moves with it — slightly contorting his body to do so – and snaps upright once finished. You cannot look away. You are suddenly aware of your age.

He helped lead an enthralled audience through a slew of Northern Indigenous games at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Aug. 4 as part of a celebration marking 35 years since the final agreement between the Inuvialuit and Canada was signed, the second-oldest modern treaty to be established in the country, according to organizers.

The purpose of the games is to teach survival skills. Each one — from the two-foot high kick to head pull — is inseparable from Inuvialuit culture.

These games were unavoidable ways of life for elders, said Donald Kuptana, facilitator and instructor of the games, who, like others, travelled from Inuvik to be here. While that’s changed to a degree, it’s not gone.

“When we’re with our youth nowadays,” he said, “what we find is that they don’t go out on the land as much because, you know, climate change, not everybody can afford a skidoo to go out on the land. Our games are a way to bridge back our way of life, our cultural values to our youth.”

There was something new this year.

The event in Whitehorse, along with preceding ones in Edmonton and Yellowknife, were the first to be hosted outside the Inuvialuit settlement region, said Duane Smith, CEO and chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which organized the event.

There are 250 Inuvialuit living in Whitehorse, he added.

“We’re into the next generation of beneficiaries, so we need to keep them informed of the land claim, the final agreement, what it means to them, what rights it has under there for them, as well as for them to have the opportunity to celebrate, wherever they are.”

It was an opportunity for the community here to connect with old friends, to gel while watching drum dancing and eating country food.

There was dried fish, goose and caribou stew, muktuk, doughnuts and tea — lots of it.

At the end of the event, a large group of people, young and old, burst into sprints for remaining muktuk. No one was injured.

“When we bring that kind of food to our people, it connects them to their childhood, the people that have passed, because as a community you share your food,” said Christine Sydney, executive assistant for the regional corporation. “It doesn’t taste as good unless you share it. That connects you to your culture and your people.”

Stories were clearly being told during the drum dances, Sydney confirmed.

One is called “Trekking,” wherein dancers go through the motions of travelling from Fort McPherson to Herschel Island.

“So they’re walking and moving their arms, putting down the willows, moving the willows out of the way, then they’re pulling their boat. It’s a story about nomadic life,” she said.

Another is called “Airplane.” It’s a story about someone taking their first trip on an airplane, waving goodbye to those they love.

“Every time, no fail, everybody has a good time,” Sydney said.

Another highpoint were games of muk, where one person emulates the sound of an animal in order to crack up their “opponent.”

Being in the wilderness for long stretches is not only strenuous. It’s lonely.

“You get caught in a blizzard, you’re not gonna move for sometimes days,” Kuptana said.

This game helps with that.

“As soon as the two start going, everybody around is just laughing.”

True. Everyone did indeed laugh while one participant replicated the sound of a moose. His opponent, doing his best to remain stone-faced, gave in, unable to contain a big belly laugh.

“Lots of personal growth happens with these games. That’s what our elders passed on to us,” Kuptana said.

The events have been well-received, said Smith, adding that people in Edmonton and Yellowknife want more. Smith said that could be a possibility. The hope, he continued, is that people will form societies and create their own Inuvialuit celebrations every year.

“They don’t need us to do it.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

Just Posted

Musician aims to help others with release of Yukon Lullaby for Mental Health

Community rallies to release Nicole Edwards’ latest work

Twenty-two people vie to buy two Arkell properties

The lucky winners two now have until May 5 to purchase lots

Conservative Northern Affairs shadow minister visits Whitehorse

Bob Zimmer was in the Yukon to speak to local business groups about the economy and challenges

YESAB extends public comment period for Kudz Ze Kayah mine project

The extension pushes the public comment period far beyond the 60 days provided in YESAB’s own rules

Police shouldn’t use ‘excessive force,’ Bagnell says regarding national resistance to B.C. pipeline

Yukoners have been pressing Bagnell to clarify his position on RCMP action in Wet’suwet’en territory

Yukonomist: Three questions on Yukon Zinc and China

The case heard recently in Yukon Supreme Court is particularly troubling

Commentary: Highway plans will negatively impact safety

The proposed Alaska Highway work will impact our safety, our communities and our environment.

Olivia Webster is the final musher to finish the Yukon Quest

‘I guess I’ve always been a grandpa’s girl and he’s my best friend, so I kind of wanted to be like him and so I did it’

Yukon’s Rob Cooke and company finish 10th in the 2020 Yukon Quest

Cooke and his 14 Siberians crossed the finish line at 9:07 a.m. on Feb. 15 in Whitehorse

Mailbox: Rendezvous and protests

Letters to the editor from Feb. 14

Lights Out Yukon Invitational Basketball Tournament bigger than ever in sixth year

“Honestly, it was the smoothest tournament I think we’ve run yet”

More Yukon Quest mushers reach finish in Whitehorse

Swedish musher Nora Sjalin is this year’s Rookie of the Year Award winner

History Hunter: Will Rogers and Wiley Post: Their historic visit to the Yukon

The story of the American pilot and the film star has a Yukon connection

Most Read