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LETTER: Yukon’s lifestyle is vanishing

Faced with eviction from an unauthorized cabin outside Dawson City, Simon Tourigny makes his case
Simon Tourigny and several others have built cabins outside of Dawson City. (Simon Tourigny/Submitted)

Right now, as you read this, there is a drama unfolding in the wilderness outside Dawson City. Three peoples’ homes and lifestyles are being threatened by the very people who are supposed to be stewards of this land and defenders of its heritage and culture.

There are three of us here. Three log cabins with sod roofs, chinked with moss on the flat near Ensley Creek about 20 miles up the Yukon River from Dawson. Our cabins are unauthorized by the government. That means we didn’t ask permission first, we didn’t purchase or otherwise obtain legal tenure, we simply took responsibility for our own lives and went ahead and built them. We are literally living the dream of millions. We are the real thing, an independent, self-sufficient community out in the bush.

But apparently, we are not allowed to be too comfortable out in the wilderness. It’s not that we aren’t allowed to spend as much time out in the wilderness as we want, it’s just that the rules are set up to make it as difficult as possible to remain on the land for any length of time.

Suddenly we had everything we needed. Good food, shelter, company and our freedom. Our very own community. That’s when the government landed in a helicopter. They’d been receiving complaints, from First Nations they said. We each received a letter from the Director of Land Management in the Yukon demanding us to remove our cabins in 30 days or he would begin the process to “remove us from the land”. We were asked politely to “please vacate the land”.

They refused to take any reply from us. We were expected to drop what we were doing, make the trek to town, find a computer or a phone and contact them ourselves. They hopped the helicopter up the river to each of our consecutive cabins then whirled on up river. I should state that I am in love with the First Nations culture, and have a passion to learn as much of the old skills as possible. Every Indigenous person I’ve ever met seems to genuinely appreciate what I’m doing and our shared love of this land and have helped me on my way to living closer with nature. How many people know how to build snowshoes anymore? Or make clothing out of tanned caribou hide?

Why is it illegal? Our cabins cost less than $500 each to build. Some nails, poly, woodstove, a little gas for the chainsaw (I built mine with hand tools) and free windows, the rest we obtained from the bush around us. Everyone needs food, warmth and shelter. We cut our own firewood, grow vegetables in the forest floor, hunt, trap and forage. We even have our own sawmill. We provide much of our daily needs ourselves with only the occasional trip to town to buy or forage at the dump what we can’t make ourselves.

“We are too much of a good example of an alternative way of living I guess,” says Chloe Sergerie, 28, of Ensley Creek. “We have so much value to add to the world, if only someone would listen. It’s not that we’re purposely disobeying authority for the sake of it, it’s just that there is no existing paperwork for what we are doing. There is an obvious need. I have a personal limit, and to be denied our right to provide for ourselves goes well past mine.”

When we refused to leave, a helicopter was promptly dispatched and circled over our cabins for several minutes before reporting back to head office. We found this act to be a disgusting invasion of privacy.

So where do they want us to live? They don’t seem to understand that we like it here, and we don’t want to move. Are they telling us we have to take down our cabins and move into a tent? Because we will if we’re forced to. Which part of what we are doing is ‘unauthorized’? Our cabins or our lifestyles? They won’t say, either because they don’t know or because the truth cannot be admitted. Who said we had to pay anyone for the right to live somewhere? For a roof over our heads where we can eat and sleep and store our things? Isn’t anyone questioning this? We take it as granted that we need to pay money for every right we’re supposed to already have. Either way we pay, to legitimize an occupation or in the fines we get for not complying.

Are we not allowed to exist in the forest? Are we not allowed to grow our own food in the earth? Are we not allowed to provide for ourselves? Everyone remembers how the government went around burning down cabins in the mid ‘80’s. This Yukon culture of wilderness living, cabins, hunting and the freedom to provide for ourselves is in very real danger of extinction.

The RCMP showed up with the natural resource officers on Sept. 17. We were asked in an authoritive tone to please come outside. We remained quietly inside my cabin, our last refuge from the world. Getting no response, they eventually left. We don’t know when they will return or under what orders. We are waiting to be arrested and forcibly taken to court to be put before a judge, the last person in a long line of people refusing to listen to us where fines or imprisonment await.

If this is truly a free country and the government has nothing to hide then we demand our right to challenge and question their authority and to have our story and voices heard! People need to wake up and smell the coffee! Take a good look around and ask yourselves - Are we actually free?

Simon Tourigny