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EDITORIAL: Support Rendezvous or don’t, but ask why

If you’ve been reading social media — and really, it shouldn’t be recommended in most circumstances — the writing has been on the wall for years that the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival has needed a jump start.
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If you’ve been reading social media — and really, it shouldn’t be recommended in most circumstances — the writing has been on the wall for years that the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival has needed a jump start.

According to some who would likely self-identify as “sourdoughs,” things went downhill when the festival was relocated from Main Street to Shipyards Park.

The ironic part, of course, is the move was necessary because the festival itself had gotten too big for the then-customary location in the heart of downtown.

To recap, the festival got too big for its location, had to move, and that made people mad. So mad, in fact, they started boycotting the festival.

That line of thinking was trotted out again this year when organizers announced they’d be marketing the festival as “Yukon Rendezvous,” dropping the word “sourdough” from most things, while still maintaining the term in the society’s formal name.

To paraphrase a great many comments from the initial CBC story on the rebrand and a subsequent branded content piece in the News, people were mad at the name change and were going to boycott. Err, except, the festival has actually been bad for at least five years, and they’ve already been boycotting.

It’s tough to be irate on the internet and coherent these days.

While the most venomous and acerbic hot takes from locals — including a number of business owners, government employees and other people who should probably be more mindful of the image they’re projecting to the public — have gotten most of the attention, it’s also important to note a great deal of the blowback was from people who had a cup of coffee in the Yukon before leaving and to them, it’s still 1975.

It’s also clear that those who fail to see the irony in responding to claims of intolerance with threats of violence are likely not going to be convinced to change their stances.

For that reason, it is perhaps more interesting to think about one of the other, less extreme if still a bit misleading, arguments that were frequently posited — removing “sourdough” from the name erases our history.

Well, to borrow from the 2004 blockbuster Mean Girls: so you agree, cherry-picking certain moments from history is a bad thing?

Fantastic, we’re all on the same page.

It’s rather silly so much of Yukon pop history is dedicated to such a short period of time — the gold rush was three, maybe four years long — when the much longer and much more interesting First Nations history is relegated to be a relative footnote. Maybe then, school curriculums should be changed to further reflect the real history rather than just pretending the Yukon only popped into existence in 1896.

Part of why people born and raised here identify so strongly with this whole sourdough idea is that’s the stuff that was, and likely still is, being taught to our youth.

While the gold rush was, without doubt, one of the most prominent and historically-significant three-to-four year periods in recent Yukon history, it is far from being inherently good or something that needs to be hitched so intrinsically to cultural identity.

The gold rush brought more people from outside to the territory than nearly any period in history before and did a great deal to establish more and more influence from outside the Yukon on both the land and people who were already here.

Don’t forget, even if your great-great grandpappy came for the gold and stayed for the cold, there were thousands of First Nations people who had already been calling this place home for centuries.

Part of reconciliation is dealing with the uncomfortable parts of history, and the fact something as benign as sourdough isn’t even up for discussion with so many is proof positive that there are some who want no part in trying to reconcile or face the mistakes of the past and present when given the option to maintain the status quo.

Sourdoughs will continue to call themselves sourdoughs, people who haven’t been to Rendezvous in years will continue to loudly talk about how they have no intention of going back, and the community will continue to come together to support the festival. All three can be true.

The term sourdough has a lot of negative connotations for a lot of people. The gatekeeping and invalidation of others is one of the negative things most closely linked to the term, so it should be far from a surprise that no amount of threats and insults will convince those who made the conscious choice to make a life here — rather than those simply born here — otherwise.

Even the idea of Yukon hospitality, so frequently espoused by those born and raised here and just as frequently ridiculed by those who chose to move here, illustrates how two people who are otherwise the same can have such different experiences.

Every year, the festival relies on volunteers and community involvement to get things done.

Between the sexist hate being spewed last year surrounding the Quest for the Crown and the backlash this year over a rebrand, it’ll be a small miracle if the festival has anybody willing to take on the mantle of organizing it in the future.

Whether you think rebranding the festival is just political correctness gone mad, or that deifying a narrow window of recent history is weird and toxic, support the festival.

Everyone agrees that it’s a welcome reprieve from the cold and dreary winter, but it needs people to support it.

Or keep your takes — good and bad — to yourself while the rest of the community tries to keep the festival running.