Before the ceremony, Pauline Frost told the News that she learned about leadership in the Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) ski program.
Frost prepared for her swearing-in by setting ski tracks in Old Crow. The trails start at Father Mouchet’s old cabin, which is now the home of the community’s cross-country ski club.
It took her two days to set the tracks. The long-established circuits had been carefully laid out years ago by the Oblate priest, all designed for different levels of skiers.
These were the training grounds of the TEST cross-country ski program that trained generations of Gwitchin young people on the importance of practice, perseverance and determination.
As early as the 1950s and 60s, Old Crow skiers were making a name for themselves. Martha Benjamin was a national level skier competing in Canada, the United States and Europe. Benjamin’s nieces, Glenna and Shirley Frost, followed her example, competing neck-and-neck with the Firth sisters out of Inuvik.
Richard Nerysoo, former NWT premier, MLA and Tetlit Gwich’in elder spoke about these women at the swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 11. “These ladies created the legacy that spread throughout the territory and made cross-country skiing in the Yukon what it is today.”
Legacy of leadership and support
Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin have long lived large, creating a legacy of strength and leadership that has rippled throughout the territory and beyond.
In 1941, the people of Old Crow received international recognition for supporting children orphaned by the London air raids by sending over $400 (worth $8,000 today) to buy boots and clothing. The people of Old Crow continued to support various war funds and sent dried caribou for the soldiers in the trenches throughout the war.
The history, names and stories of Vuntut Gwitchin citizens are well-recorded on the internet, thanks in part to Mary Jane Moses who recently received an honorary degree from Yukon College. Moses contributed to a body of knowledge originating in Old Crow in diverse fields of study, from hydrology to human health to biology to palaeontology.
There are currently dozens of universities with projects underway on their traditional territory.
Edith Josie’s Whitehorse Star columns, which ran for 40 years, were syndicated to other Canadian newspapers and translated into four languages, also putting Old Crow on the map.
Father Mouchet’s TEST training developed into a world-class program for Canada’s top cross-country ski athletes. His vision was that competitive and recreational sports training would deliver self-esteem, motivation and confidence as tools for young people that would to serve them “in a complex and complicated world.”
Both Josie and Mouchet became Members of the Order of Canada in 1995 and 1993, respectively.
Old Crow elders also showed foresight in advising their new development corporation to partner with an airline in 2002. Their 49 per cent purchase helped expand Air North.
Recently, the now-former Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, disturbed by climate change impacts, envisioned environmental sustainability for the small community and built a bank of solar panels quieting the diesel generators in the summer months. He too, raised the profile of the community with a story in the Washington Post and recognition from Time magazine as a leader among the top 100 rising stars around the world.
Tizya-Tramm was the youngest chief, Frost’s mother was the first woman chief, and Pauline Frost has the first all-matriarch council promising to look after the health and well-being of the community.
The challenges remain – lakes drained by melting permafrost have changed the subsistence way of life; the migration of young people to urban centres; alcoholism and drugs; open burning of construction waste at the community dump; sub-standard housing; the rising costs of transportation; and mail insecurity for parcels, food and prescription drugs.
How to make things better
“I want to do it from a kind place that is rooted in the teachings of our ancestors,” Frost said in her first address to the community as chief. “But I also know that I’m not going to walk this path alone. I have two amazing counselors with me. They come from the same place.”
After council member Janeen Frei Njootli honoured the children of the community, five elders spoke. They cautioned the new council and Old Crow families to ensure community cohesiveness and mutual support.
Frost echoed the sentiment. “We want to do the best we can for the community, we will do everything in our power to ensure that every person has a voice and a voice in your government.”
The good news is that the Porcupine Caribou herd is healthy, the elders building will soon be completed, Yukon Housing is constructing apartments for teachers and nurses, and a new integrated health services building will replace the old 1970’s nursing station.
Frost has already made plans to re-start the Father Mouchet Memorial Loppet in Old Crow this year, with invitations out to previous years’ organizer Pavlina Sudrich and Gary Bailie (who is the head coach of the Kwanlin Koyotes cross-country ski club). The Memorial Loppet ran for five years before Covid restricted travel to the small community.
Restoring the health of the community will not be easy. But as her father always said, “Pauline is a do-er.” As the story goes, relatives said, Pauline once left a group of people “having a nip,” took off with a snow machine, returned with a caribou on the back of the sled, and heaved it on to the fire for dinner.
Pauline is a spotter, a trained marksman, well-medalled at many national and Indigenous games events for many years. In 2006 she set a new record for women’s tandem canoe in the Yukon River Quest, missed the medal ceremony and flew to the North American Indigenous Games in Colorado where she, and others from Old Crow, medalled in shooting.
Frost has always had her eye on the community where she grew up.
Contact Lawrie Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org