Troubled teen found contentment on the land


Alyssa Magun came to the North by way of a troubled adolescence and found her way to a happy and contented adulthood.

“I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I was a bad teenager,” she says. “When I was 15 I went to Whitehorse; I figured it was my dad’s turn to have his life made miserable. My mom and step-dad had had their share.”

At 17, working in Ross River, she met James Magun, fell in love and planned a wedding. Before the marriage could take place however, Alyssa was picked up by immigration officials, then put in the detention centre in

Vancouver and given seven days to leave the country.

She had neglected to do the paperwork necessary for her to remain in Canada.

“I went home, bought my wedding dress, and came back; James and I got married in the little church in Upper Liard, ” Alyssa says.

“I was 18 when I was arrested in Whitehorse and threatened with deportation again. I couldn’t do the paperwork because a physical was required that involved X-rays, and I was pregnant. I got pregnant right after we were

married; we decided we might as well carry on and have our family. We didn’t want them to be far apart in ages, so we had the boys about a year apart. I wanted a girl, but after three kids one after the other, I was going

to quit. James talked me into one more pregnancy and we had Kyla. Then I was done.”

“I couldn’t do the paperwork all that time because I was always pregnant,” she says. “At least they became convinced the marriage was genuine and not some ploy to get citizenship – all those kids!”

What is her status now?

“I’m a landed immigrant. My passport is a US one still, and that can be a nuisance. Two years ago, coming home with the family from a holiday in Mexico, I was held up from re-entering Canada. I’d forgotten to bring my

immigration papers. They had to look me up in the system before they would let me through. James was teasing the kids that they were going to have to go home without me.”

James and Alyssa settled in Watson Lake to raise their family. She stayed home and James worked, driving a truck for Jedway until going out on his own a couple of years ago.

When the youngest child started kindergarten, Alyssa went back to work. She worked at the elementary school and eventually for the town of Watson Lake where she is now recreational programmer.

It’s a job she enjoys and is good at; it requires an ability to organize and who better than a woman who, with a husband on the road a lot of the time, raised four kids and looked after horses, dogs, a cat, and fish?

The children are older now and don’t need her to be at home so much. Cody is 18, Trevor 16, James Jr. 15 and Kyla 13.

“Kyla is keeping us on our toes,” Alyssa says. “I have to remind her that she may be the princess, but I am the queen.”

All have been encouraged to have jobs in the summertime. “They want the motorcycles and the stuff like that; they have to pay for them,” their mom says. “It’s preparation for learning to be responsible, and to know

what it takes to get and manage money.”

Of course, they know how to cook and do laundry, too.

“James and I have to carve time for us,” Alyssa says. “Sometimes in the evening we’ll decide to go out in the boat, or move the horses. Any one of the kids can make dinner.”

How has it been for her, a white woman, and in the beginning a stranger to the community, married to a Kaska man?

“The First Nations people have been accepting,” she says.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we live the lifestyle. We’ve raised our kids on the land.

“All of the family, including me, knows how to trap, skin, stretch and sell fur. We trap every winter, as a family. The kids have taken the trappers’ course.

“All the kids know how to shoot; all have their FAC, and we hunt as a unit. We go out together to get our moose in the fall. Last year we all went on a sheep hunt.

“We fish year round, drying and smoking fish.

“James and I built the first cabin on the trap line; I was pregnant with Trevor then, but all the kids helped build the second cabin.

“Everyone knows how to drive the truck, the snowmobiles, the ATV, and how to handle the boat. The kids know how to set up and take down a camp.”

“Two of the boys are exceptional shots. At the Indigenous Games last year James Jr. brought home four gold medals and Trevor won three bronze.”

The family travel together; they have been several times to the States, visiting with Alyssa’s family there. They went to Mexico to meet up with Alyssa’s dad and her brother and his two kids. For next year, a holiday in

the Caribbean is in the works.

James and Alyssa have emphasized the importance of an education.

“We want them to be able to make a choice of whether to go or stay in the North and a good education is the key to be able to make those decisions.”

When the children are grown and gone, will James and Alyssa stay in Watson Lake?

“In this area for sure,” she says. “We will build a house out at Simpson Lake; we’re already looking for the perfect spot.”

Is her life what she aspired to as a youngster? Has she realized her dream?

“The only thing I was ever remembered for saying I wished for when I was a kid was a big family,” she says. “I got that, and more. I got a good partner and good kids. With me and James, it’s all about us, our family.

Together, that’s what we are interested in and that’s what we care about.

“And I am proud of that; I am proud of my family and our life. What else is there to want?”