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New proposal submitted to make Tr’ondëk-Klondike region a world heritage site

The proposal focuses on the impact of colonialization before and after the Gold Rush
Joel Krahn/Yukon News file View of Dawson City.

A new application is being submitted to make the Klondike a world heritage site, with the Indigenous experience of the Gold Rush at the centre.

“It is important for Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Citizens to see their stories told honestly and truthfully. For me, Tr’ondëk-Klondike recognizes the challenges we have endured as a people, but also the strength of our people in the face of these life-changing events. Today we are leaders in our community, and our grandchildren can be proud of the direction we are headed,” said Deb Nagano, co-chair of the application advisory committee, in a statement.

“We feel confident the revised nomination, with its increased focus on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in nation, underscores Tr’ondëk-Klondike’s unique ability to tell the greater story of colonization and its impacts, as well as the resilience of Indigenous peoples,” she said.

The nomination was submitted by Canada to the World Heritage Centre in February and will now be assessed by experts. A decision is expected in early 2022 following an 18-month evaluation process.

The proposed Tr’ondëk-Klondike World Heritage site focuses on colonization that took place in the Dawson region before and after the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There are eight special cultural sites that tell the story if the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin experience with European colonists, including Fort Reliance; Ch’ëdähdëk (Forty Mile); Ch’ëdähdëk Tth’än K’et (Dënezhu Graveyard); Fort Cudahy and Fort Constantine; Tr’ochëk; Dawson City; Jëjik Dhä Dënezhu Kek’it (Moosehide Village); and Tthe Zra ̧y Kek’it (Black City).

The applicants say that the site is both a unique place and also a reflection of the way European colonization affected many Indigenous peoples across the world over a 500 year period.

Application is second Klondike heritage proposal

A different proposal was considered in 2004, but withdrawn after feedback from the committee. The original proposal included the Klondike Gold Rush journey up the coast, including parts of the United States, and received feedback that the focus on industrial activity wasn’t aligned with the special designation.

“Our criteria was to represent a significant period of time. We looked at colonialism as a constrained global event that happened over 500 years. Tr’ondëk-Klondike tells a pretty clear story from an Indigenous perspective through the sites we have,” said project manager Lee Whalen, who is a heritage officer with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Government.

“This still focuses on the Gold Rush, because it is one of the most impactful events in Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in territory, right? It influences everything after it. So it is definitely part of the story,” he said.

Whalen said it is not unusual for sites to be withdrawn and reworked before they eventually end up on the list.

The UNESCO World Heritage List recognizes 1,121 different sites around the world, including the four parks covering the Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range, the village of SGang Gwaay on Haida Gwaii, Nahanni National Park and Wood Buffalo National Park.

The World Heritage designation does not affect treaty or mining rights, and none of the sites being proposed are being actively mined. Proponents are hoping that it would enrich existing tourism opportunities and attract visitors interested in heritage tourism.

“It’s a good project for everybody. There’s community benefits, but it just feels good to be able to work together on a story and get to a point where we’re all kind of sitting at the table understanding each other and talking at the same level about an event,” said Whalen.

“Then of course there’s the international prestige — being on the list of the pyramids and the Great Wall of China and Easter Island — I think there’s some of that involved as well.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at