Allan Benjamin was in a hurry Saturday morning, that’s why he ignored the human corpse.
He assumed it was only a white rock he saw sticking out of the bank of the Porcupine River and canoed past on his way to cut the grass at his aunt’s camp.
But when the Weed Wacker broke, he had a bit more time on his hands.
As he came back downriver and saw the round, white spot again, he couldn’t get his grandmother’s words out of his head.
“She showed me that place one time and she said there’s about three graves here,” he said. “So I knew that.”
He decided to bank the canoe, get out and take a look.
“Sure enough, it was a human skull,” he said. “I just took a quick look around and then I located some vertebrae and backbone and what I believe to be a femur bone. I never disturbed anything, I just took a good look, went back to Old Crow and notified the RCMP.”
When Benjamin directed the two RCMP officers to the site, he asked them if they could see the white spot from where he first spotted it on the river.
They couldn’t, he said.
“They call me ‘eagle eyes.’”
The community is blaming climate change and melting permafrost for exposing the remains, which they have identified as ancient.
But no studies were done to find out any more details on who the dead were, or how long they may have been there.
The First Nation followed elders’ instructions to be quick and respectful in dealing with them.
“The remains were relocated and buried yesterday near their original resting place with a proper traditional ceremony from our spiritual leaders,” said a news release issued by the Vuntut Gwitchin government this week.
“I did the right thing,” Benjamin said of his conscientious effort not to disturb anything and to notify the community right away. “But it was kind of strange.”
On the Saturday he found the bones, it was a nice, sunny day, perfect for paddling, he said.
“But when I discovered it, it started raining and wind just came up,” he said. “It was like that for three days – windy and raining. When they buried it, it calmed down and there was sunshine again.
“So I think they did the right thing too.”
Benjamin has lived in Old Crow all of his life. The well-known fiddler, snowshoer and cartoonist is 54 years old now and works at the Old Crow airport, although this experience has made him think about going back to school.
“I’m a part-time archeologist,” he said, laughing.
“But it is pretty significant,” he added earnestly. “It was quite the experience for me.”
There are a number of ancient burial locations in the Vuntut Gwich’in’s traditional territory that the community is aware of, the government’s news release said.
“We are working towards protecting these sacred areas from future disturbances.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at