Yukonomist: Did you forget to buy your coffee table a present?

Yukonomist Keith Halliday

With a desiccated spruce tree at the curb and the holidays behind us, it’s time to re-arrange the living room for some winter lounging.

The good news is that there are two new must-have Yukon coffee-table books. They are both perfect for guests, if you have any these days, to flip through. Or for you to curl up and read end to end.

The first is Kwanlin Dün: Our Story in Our Words. Produced by the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the book tells the First Nation’s cultural and personal stories in the voices of dozens of community members. It is organized in six parts roughly chronologically. The first half starts with creation stories, then pre-contact times and the first appearance of the K’ǔ Ch’an or Cloud People. Then the massive shock of the gold rush, with stories of trapping, trading and wood camps before the Alaska Highway provides the next massive shock. The last chapters tell the stories of the rapid and disruptive growth of Whitehorse, the long journey towards self-government and life in the 21st Century.

The stories are well told and make great reading. Several, such as Game Mother by Angela Sidney, are beautifully presented with Tagish and English texts side by side.

Other sections are fascinating historical narrative.

For example, there is the original letter from Kashxóot (also known as Kishwoot or Chief Jim Boss) to Ottawa in 1902, widely viewed as the start of the land claims process.

Or stories about how the Whitehorse Indian Agent told First Nations people they weren’t allowed to live in town, and had to move out past the railway yard limit post.

The historical sections give a fresh perspective. For our new Klondike Gold Rush History podcast, I’ve been re-reading some of the classic books about the gold rush. It’s glaring how much the typical American or Canadian history book neglects the First Nations experience.

One example sums it up. In a standard text, Robert Campbell and his Hudson’s Bay post at Fort Selkirk are centrepieces. In Our Story in Our Words, he appears just twice in the index. This is probably the right weight for Campbell. His arrival was noteworthy, but European trade goods (and diseases) were already circulating widely in the Yukon before he arrived. And he was at Fort Selkirk only a few years.

The book is also beautifully designed and laid out. There are striking photos, both historical and current. Texts in Southern Tutchone, Northern Tutchone, Tagish and Tlingit enrich the text throughout. And the pages are decorated with designs and patterns from the geometric period of First Nations art, some dating back 10,000 years or more.

Our Story in Our Words is a must-have for every Yukon living room. Kudos to the large team who produced the book.

The other book your living room needs is Yukon Hiking: A Little Guidance in a Wild Landscape, by Marko and Meghan Marjanovic. This is the team who run the go-to website for backcountry adventure, yukonhiking.ca.

The book includes a double page spread on each hiking route, with maps, route information and stunning photos. Some include additional information such as optional routes or mountain biking or skiing options. Routes include the Whitehorse area, Kluane, Skagway and the White Pass, and the Dempster regions.

Yukon Hiking complements the website well. You can flip the book with your hiking partners to pick a hike, then use the website to see recent comments from other hikers or to load the GPS maps into your phone.

While it looks like Yukoners will be vaccinated by the end of March, the rest of the country may not be. Which means you should start planning some Yukon trips.

Our Story in Our Words is available at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, and both books are available at Mac’s and other local bookstores.

Pick them up for friends and family, or your own living room if all Santa brought you was ugly sweaters.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.


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