Aboriginal carvers chip away the past

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation broke new ground yesterday. First, with the ceremonial turning of soil for a cultural centre that will feature Whitehorse’s new public library, and later, with the unveiling of a 181-kilogram dugout canoe built by 19 Sundog carvers this summer.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation broke new ground yesterday.

First, with the ceremonial turning of soil for a cultural centre that will feature Whitehorse’s new public library, and later, with the unveiling of a 181-kilogram dugout canoe built by 19 Sundog carvers this summer.

Nearly 100 people gathered at the foot of Black Street and First Avenue at noon on Wednesday for the launch of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Cultural Centre.

“Aren’t we in a moment in history – to see the government working with First Nations’ government,” said Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo, who was in town for the event.

“Our people are rising up again, to a place our ancestors once knew.”

The 3,700-square-metre centre, expected to be complete in late 2011, is being hailed as a building that will strengthen and reinforce Kwanlin Dun culture.

“This centre will enhance our people and enliven the practise of our culture. It will revitalize our language and respect for our people,” said Kwanlin Dun Chief Mike Smith.

Planning for the centre has been in the works since 2001, and since then, the Yukon government has promised $7.4 million for the project.

The cultural centre will feature a longhouse capable of fitting 1,000 people, gallery space, an elders’ lounge and several other meeting spaces.

The main branch of the Whitehorse Library will also move from its small, cramped location on Second Avenue to two floors at the centre. The new library will resemble the white clay bluffs along the river.

The centre will also house the nine-metre-long cedar canoe presented by Sundog carvers at Wednesday’s ceremony.

Because of less-than-ideal weather conditions and a swift river current, the carvers weren’t able to paddle the canoe down the Yukon River as they had planned.

However, they did shoulder the ponderous craft to the riverbank, where a crimson flag was raised and Tlingit dancers performed a traditional welcome.

“Too long our people have suffered,” said Smith. “With this canoe we can begin to heal.”

“I’m going to read you something I wrote six years ago,” said master carver Wayne Price, who mentored the 19 youth, helping them transform a 544-kilo log into the Tlingit-style canoe.

He then recited from a journal entry made after a sweat lodge ceremony in which he was struck with the idea for the healing canoe project.

“Much has changed in the last 150 years, but still my people suffer from booze, drugs and a loss of identity,” he said.

“Once we were warriors, now what is left?”

Price, who recovered from a life of drug and alcohol abuse himself, drew from his own struggle to illustrate the extreme challenges aboriginal people have faced.

The key to sidestepping this pain is to pass along traditional knowledge and culture to young people, he said.

“I feel the dugout canoe is part of a key to our past,” said Price, who stressed the importance of art in celebrating First Nation culture.

The youth who took part in the dugout canoe project pledged to stay alcohol and drug free for the duration of the six weeks. They lived in tents on an island without any distractions from cellphones, iPods or computers.

After chipping away hundreds of pounds of cedar from the canoe, the youth wrote the names of people they’d lost to drugs and alcohol on the curled scraps of wood.

“We burned the cedar chips for four days and nights, that’s how long we kept the fires going,” said Price.

See video at http://yukon-news.com/multimedia/video/14099/

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes


Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read