Alyce Johnson’s chapter in a new history volume that includes personal stories from 22 Kluane First Nations elders is titled Teachings From Our Trails.
Johnson says the trails she writes about are not only the physical ways through the landscape but also those that trace back through family and personal histories. Her recollections of travels through the horse trails, mountains and waterways of the Kluane region and the lessons taught by the land and her family are among the stories told in Lhù’ààn Mân Keyí Dań Kwánje Nààtsat: Kluane Lake Country People Speak Strong, a large and colourful book that has been years in the making.
“Those trails map who we are as individuals. And it’s not just me as one person, but every person has a narrative of trails that brings them from, you know, different continents even. And the multi dimensionality of trails links us everywhere we have as individuals that live on planet Earth, on Mother Earth, we are all tied together by those trails,” Johnson said of the title of her story.
Reflecting on where you have come from features majorly into Johnson’s chapter. In it she describes a day when she was walking towards the St. Elias Mountains with her mother and brother. She said her mother would regularly tell her and her brother to look back down the trail and consider the landmarks they had passed.
“She was training me to look back. So we not only look back physically on a trail, but we also look back, you know, to our history into our genealogy to our names and passing down of our names,” Johnson said.
Having worked a long career in education, Johnson hopes the book that contains her story will not collect dust on a shelf but instead will get a place in schools.
“We’re leaving that gift of knowledge, traditional knowledge, and Western knowledge for the future generations so that they can look back and say, yes, that’s the way it is.”
Johnson, who was born in 1955, said the stories left by her and the other 21 elders who shared stories all reflect the change and upheaval seen over the course of their lives. Although change may be unavoidable she says she hopes the future remains grounded on the land and in traditional language and culture for those who come after her. Her story in the book tells of multiple generations of her family still participating in a muskrat trapping camp near her father’s old trapline; she is also taking classes to learn more Dań kʼe, the Kluane dialect of Southern Tutchone.
Speaking about her story and the others from elders in the book, Johnson said the impacts of residential or day schools are an undeniable common feature. The stories also tell of the hard work of life close to the land, hauling wood, setting traps and snares, netting fish from the lakes. The elders write about camping together in large family groups, travels by dogsled and learning traditional skills and crafts from those who came before them.
Along with the personal histories of the elders interviewed for the book, Kluane Lake Country People Speak Strong also contains more than 100 pages detailing the history of the region up to the signing of KFN’s land claims and self-government agreements in October 2003.
The history details the people of the Kluane region’s ancient ties to the Tlingit on what is now the Southeast Alaskan coast and the groups in the Yukon interior that they reached through routes used for hunting, fishing, gathering and trade. The traditional stories of the crow making the world and of an injured man living among wolves are also prominently featured in both Dań kʼe and English.
It retells the time before newcomers from Alaska or southern Canada reached the Kluane region and then the effects of the waves of arrivals from early explorers to gold seekers in the late 1800s to the construction of the Alaska Highway, described as negative and with far-reaching consequences. KFN’s role in Yukon First Nations land claims prior to the final self government agreements are also detailed.
The book is illustrated with portraits of the elders who shared their stories and with dozens of historical and contemporary photos from the Kluane region.
Johnson was one of many people who attended an event in Burwash in October celebrating the completion of the book and the 20th anniversary of KFN’s self-government. She said more than 200 people were on hand with some coming from distant parts of the Yukon and from Alaska.
Lhù’ààn Mân Keyí Dań Kwánje Nààtsat: Kluane Lake Country People Speak Strong can be purchased through its publisher at www.figure1publishing.com or through other retailers.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org