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New shelter plans Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in designs; seeks exemption from Dawson’s Gold Rush-era heritage rule

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation has called for artists to adorn new $6-million men’s shelter
The site of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation’s new men’s shelter that’s currently under construction at 1217 Second Ave. The First Nation is seeking an artist to adorn the $6-million project with culturally relevant artwork. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

The new Jëje Zho men’s shelter will add Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditions to Dawson City’s mostly Gold Rush-era façade.

“Are you a TH artist with an interest and ability in helping us adorn the new men’s shelter under construction?” prompts a Dec. 16 post on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation (THFN) website with a link to the request for proposal (RFP).

The RFP is issued to “TH citizen artists and crafts people for the design, fabrication, supply and installation” of exterior signage and artwork for the new men’s shelter.

Wildstone Contracting Ltd. has started building and will ramp up construction in March on the close to $6-million shelter and transitional housing project at 1217 Second Ave.

In a phone interview on Feb. 8, Peter Marangu, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in director of housing and infrastructure, confirmed the 10 units will hold a maximum of 14 beds that will be open to anyone in the Yukon who identifies as male. He said the existing men’s shelter programs in Dawson City are “overloaded,” and nearly half of the people who use the services are non-Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in members.

In the RFP, the shelter will be made up of three emergency intake units for men requesting to get into the program or needing a place to stay without full intake, four highly supported units following intake, and six transitional units for more independent living that allows the person to acquire “life skills and readiness.”

Marangu said Hän people have been in the region since “time immemorial” so it is important for the building’s design to reflect their culture and heritage. He said the community envisions nature, wood colours and signs and symbols that are familiar to them.

“This is home, and the design is very important to make us feel at home,” Marangu said. “It has to be comfortable; it has to feel connected … it doesn’t have to feel like an institution.”

The scope of the artwork involves six categories of separate projects. For example, different pieces use depictions of a crow, a wolf and a king salmon, and source wood from the First Nation’s traditional territory.

“All designs are to depict actual real shapes and not abstract designs,” the RFP reads.

It says that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in council will review submissions and select the proponents of artwork and signage that “best represent WE ARE DËNEZHU. WE LIVE TR’ËHUDÈ within the Jëje Zho context.”

Part of the attached description of the vision and intent of the artistry reads:

“We are Dënezhu, the people of this land

We are Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the people of this river

following the ways Tsà’ Wëzhè traveled

and remembering his journey and the living inheritance he left us –

Tr’ëhudè, our way of life and our law.”

Marangu was not able to discuss the submissions during the interview. Jan. 31 was the deadline to submit ideas. A decision on all successful proponents will be made Feb. 15.

THFN sought heritage exemption

Dawson City’s heritage advisory committee typically weighs in on development projects. The new men’s shelter has been exempted from the heritage rules.

A report to Dawson City council for decision last summer outlines Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in council’s requests regarding the development of a men’s shelter. The report refers to several relevant bylaws, including the design guidelines for historic Dawson City. It has two letters, both signed by Marangu and dated July 9, 2021, attached to it: one calling for Dawson City support for the men’s shelter, and the other seeking exemption from the Gold Rush-era heritage guidelines.

“The guidelines currently do not encourage or accept the expression of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in culture and heritage through our buildings. This community building will provide shelter, healing, sanctuary, community, strength and support to those most in need and should be warm and welcoming,” reads a letter from Marangu to Cory Bellmore, Dawson City’s chief administrative officer.

“We are requesting that the plans of the building be exempted from the requirements of Gold Rush era construction,” the letter continues, and look forward to “participating with the City of Dawson in future heritage and cultural plans and initiatives.”

In the interview, Marangu said the committee usually only accepts Gold Rush-era designs, with few exceptions.

The First Nation has been working with Dawson City to possibly change the bylaws so that they can “recognize the existence and the fundamental heritage of [Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in] in this area” on future Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in projects, Marangu said. The bylaws currently do not offer different channels for First Nation projects to be designed on their own terms.

“They’re willing to work with us so that we can find a way that we are all working together to share both TH heritage and art in a way that is still attractive for the community,” Marangu said. “Their heritage is part of the heritage.”

Dawson City Mayor Bill Kendrick, who was elected mayor following the exemption, had no comment on the building design process.

In May 2018, intern architect Alanna Quock presented about concepts for building in the territory for Yukon First Nations. Her work homes in on healing through design.

“It’s important that people who are using the space can see themselves within it, so I think having a proposal for a local artist out there allows for more connection to the space,” Quock said during a phone interview on Feb. 7, noting that specific designs can relate to programming that is offered.

It connects to her work on a project with a local First Nations health authority in B.C., where Quock said Indigenous people have often felt excluded from or traumatized by the health system. “Having that art from a local person makes it more welcoming and allows people to see themselves and their culture reflected,” Quock said.

In the RFP, the approved budget for the signage and artwork is $150,000.

The new shelter is being paid for by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Yukon Housing Corporation, the respective federal and territorial crown bodies in charge of housing. Marangu said the City of Dawson has provided waivers, and THFN will also be pitching in.

The new Jëje Zho men’s shelter is expected to be ready by December.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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