Two Yukon University staff, along with a professor at the University of British Columbia, have produced a free e-book that offers an overview of Yukon First Nations history and culture, written for a northern and local audience.
ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of Yukon’s First Peoples is the result of seven years of work by Victoria Elena Castillo, the coordinator for Yukon University’s heritage and culture program; Christine Schreyer, an associate professor of anthropology at UBC Okanagan; and Tosh Southwick, Yukon University’s associate vice-president of Indigenous engagement and reconciliation.
The book came about, Castillo said in an interview July 20, after staff with the heritage and culture program, in putting together a curriculum for a course on the history of Yukon First Nations and self-government, noticed a lack of modern reading materials on the topic.
“There was really excellent … material from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s, but a lot of the wording was really dated, right? So they were using terminology that just isn’t acceptable to be used anymore,” she said.
“And then, you know, there was a lot missing, like what’s happening today within governments now that they have settlement land claims and are basically implementing the land claims.”
Castillo attributed the gap in material, noting that “there were things published that were more modern, obviously,” to people being busy actually implementing land claims.
“If you’re implementing land claims and you’re running your governments and you’re doing the cultural work and the historical work, it’s hard to sit down and put it down on paper and get something published,” she said.
Castillo began working with Schreyer and Southwick in 2013 abut developing what was originally planned to be a roughly 30-to-40-page handbook — one that would, in addition to documenting Yukon First Nations history, also offer contemporary perspectives on culture, heritage and self-government.
As they started chipping away at it, though, it “morphed really quickly into more of a textbook-slash-more-of-a-book-itself, not just a little handbook,” Castillo said, ultimately becoming a six-chapter-long document with an extensive bibliography directing readers to a plethora of other Yukon-made resources should they wish to pursue further research.
“This book is intended to be a starting point from which readers can begin their studies of the diverse Indigenous cultural groups that make up Yukon,” ECHO’s introduction reads.
“… (We) hope that by presenting a range of material from local First Nations, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians that every reader will come away having learned something new about Yukon’s founding cultures, traditions, languages, history, and governance.”
The chapters include an introduction to First Peoples, archaeology, ethnography and traditional lifeways, relationships with newcomers, governance, and artistic expression and entertainment.
Besides summarizing existing resources, ECHO also features interviews with about a dozen Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers on how they conduct their work and meaningfully engage with Yukon communities.
It’s meant to be a living document of sorts, Castillo said, with the idea that, as an e-book, it can be continually updated with more resources as they come about.
ECHO, according to a Yukon University press release, is already being used in classes at the university, with the authors hoping it can also be a resource for high school classes as well as people working at Yukon museums, historical sites and cultural centres.
In a separate interview July 20, Southwick said that she’s been receiving “really amazing” feedback so far, getting daily calls from researchers and educators interested in using ECHO.
“I think the feedback has been, ‘It’s long overdue, you know, it’s been needed for a long time,’” she said. “In particular, I’ve heard from a number of Indigenous students how important it is for them to be able to see an Indigenous voice coming from where they’re from. They see themselves in the readings and it makes sense to them.
“It’s also meant to be a really digestible handbook, and so it’s pretty comprehensive and it’s a really good foundational overview and I think that’s really helpful because sometimes the readings really focus on one piece of our history and this is something that brings a lot of that information together.”
Southwick added that she thought the book is part of a transition happening in the academic world, where experts and researchers in the North are the ones actually producing work about the North.
“It isn’t, you know, the case of you’ve got somebody from Minnesota or from Texas that’s come up for a couple of weeks and now who’s written a resource, but rather people who have spent a significant amount of time up here (who wrote ECHO),” she said.
“And I think that’s important because we need to be able to build up the capacity of the North and be seen as our own experts.”
ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of Yukon’s First Peoples is available in multiple formats at pressbooks.bccampus.ca/echoyukonsfirstpeople/
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org
A previous version of this story identified Southwick by her previous title at Yukon College. The News regrets the error.