Dawson City, Yukon Friday, August 17, 2001

Willie Gordon and Barnacle Bob played the bar music of today to open up a Sunday afternoon's concert at the Oddfellow's Ballroom. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Canadians and Americans Join Hands at Their Northern Border
Culture Camp at Moosehide
A Swiss Reunion
Scheer Resigns from Dawson Council
Thunderfest 2001: Strange Things Done
River of Culture Tours
A Touch of Jamaica at the Inn
Sportin' House Music at the ODD Hall
Planning for Tr'ochek Heritage Site Requires Community Input

Welcome to the August 17, 2001 edition of the online Klondike Sun, which reproduces a selection of the many photographs and articles which were in the 32 page August 14 hard copy edition. The hard copy also contains Doug Urquhart's famous "Paws" cartoon strip, our homegrown crossword puzzle and, obviously, all the material you won't find here. See what you're missing by not subscribing?

Seriously, we do encourage viewers of this website to consider subscribing to the Sun (details on the home page). It would help us financially and you would get to see everything closer to when it's actually news. About 600 people read each issue of this paper online, and we'd love to be sending out that many more papers.

Canadians and Americans Join Hands at Their Northern Border

by Dan Davidson


Robert Eddy (INS), Dan Holland (U.S. Customs), Andre Villeneuve (Can. Customs), Pete Gordon (INS) and Barry McKee (Can. Customs) cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the station. Photo by Dan Davidson

From just a few kilometres away the Canada/US border is a mere splotch of blue/green set against an awesome backdrop of barren hillsides and rock. Up on the hillside an aging cairn marks the International Boundary Line, while a less obvious marker continues to the line down to the creek in the valley below.

It's 104 kilometres from Dawson City over the Top of the World Highway, steadily climbing to a height of 4125 feet above sea level, leaving most of the trees behind on the lower elevations. Once there the road becomes the Taylor Highway, and it's another 176 kilometres to Tok Junction, where the road meets the Alaska Highway.

Generally there's no one at home but the contingent of Canadian and American customs agents who staff the border crossing for 12 hours each day, hours of operation adjusted to allow for the fact that the border also marks a change in the time zone. The border may have 40,000 travellers pass through each season from May until October but there are seldom many there at any one time.

On this day, however, some forty people - from Dawson, Eagle, Whitehorse, various points in Alaska and as far away as California - assembled to see the official opening an dedication of the first joint Canada-U.S. border facility to come out of the Canada-United States of America Accord on Our Shared Border, a treaty signed in February 1995 by Prime Minister Jean Chretien and then President Bill Clinton.

There have been a couple of elections since then, so it's President George W. Bush whose name resides above Chretien's on the plaque beneath the inscription "Created Under the Cooperative Spirit of the Accord on Our Shared Border."

The ceremonies, emceed jointly by John Lind of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and Kimberly Gray of the American Immigration and Naturalization Service, got under way about 1 o'clock, with officials from those agencies and U.S. Customs giving speeches, cutting a ribbon and unveiling the plaque to officially open the U.S. 2.3 million dollar facility.

In the past only Canada has had an actual station at the border. The Americans had a log residence for their agent and he or she worked out of there. The Canadian building was essentially falling apart and the accord gave the agencies the opportunity to investigate planning a joint physical plant for this isolated post. The three agencies will share costs on power generation, water supply, sewage eduction and disposal, telecommunications equipment and heating.

On one side of the building those entering Canada will meet the officers of Little Gold Creek Customs Station, while on the other those entering the U.S. arrive at Poker Creek Customs.

Barry McKee of Canada Customs told the crowd that the success of this project is an example of the success there can be in partnerships. it may have taken 5 years, but it was well worth it. He recalled that a year ago his staff were working in conditions that resembled a disaster zone, and thanked them for their perseverance.

Dan Holland of U.S. Customs in Anchorage has seen the need for this project since the mid 1980s when he first visited the area.

"We are joined at the border because we have to be," he said.

For him the station is simply a symbol of the same kind of cooperation that the staff of the two countries showed when they saved a troop of Boys Scouts which was stranded here by an unseasonable blizzard in August of 1984.

Robert Eddy of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spoke at some length about the movement of people throughout the world and such movement into the U.S.A. is now seen as a national security issue. He opined that of the tens of millions of displaced persons currently circulating in the world, a good many of them would eventually end up in some part of North America.

There is, he said, an inherent clash between the old ways of governing borders and the new ways of globalism being defined by the trade agreements currently being developed world wide. Those entering the field now were in for the difficult and invigorating task of finding ways to cope.

Pete Gordon of INS stepped up to the podium with a two centimetre thick speech in his hand, but he set it aside, saying that it just didn't seem to what the moment needed. He praised the results of cooperation, and said this would lead to a better and safer operation at this border point. It was significant, he said, that this post was the first of three to be opened under the terms of the accord. Others are currently under construction in Coutts, Alberta (Sweetgrass, Montana); and Osoyoos, B.C. (Oroville, Washington State).

The last speaker was Canada Customs' Andre Villeneuve, who said he would be brief. He welcomed everyone to the opening and closed by saying, "I can't imagine this place in the winter."

The ceremony concluded with two small presentations. U.S. Customs agent Paul Kelly was recognized for his role in rescuing a bus load of German tourists who were stranded near the station at the end of the season last October.

John Lind presented tokens of appreciation to Canada Customs staff Gary Burgess, Collette Parry and Susan Smith, for their part in the project.

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Culture Camp at Moosehide

by Heather Robb


Culture camp dancers. Photo by Heather Robb

At the final feast of Yukon College's culture camp at Moosehide hosted by the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, local coordinator Angie Joseph-Rear stated that when she was initially approached about the contract, she wasn't sure that "culture camp" was the right name for the program.

Instead, she thought cross-cultural camp might be more suitable-- since the learning process is more like an exchange between the hosting First Nation and the students who participate in the program. The fourteen students she ended up hosting at Moosehide come from all different cultures-- and some are from various northern First Nations.

The nine day camp, organized by Yukon College, is a prerequisite course, offered every other year, for students of the Northern human services worker/ Bachelor of social work program, accredited by the University of Regina. It is preceded by a course in human relations.

Culture camp has been part of Yukon College's BSW program since it began in 1993, when elders from around the territory were consulted about what they wanted to see emphasized in social work training.

According to Anne Turner, First Nations advisor for YC and instructor facilitator of the culture camp at Moosehide, the elders made it clear that social workers trained down south who then enter northern communities are often unaware of FN dynamics, and so training needed to be more culturally relevant. They suggested that some kind of culture camp was essential.

Since then, camps have been hosted by the Little Salmon Carmacks FN, Teslin Tlingit Council, Kluane FN, and Ross River Dena Council.

The program aims to "bridge the gap between Yukon First Nations and the social work profession," said Turner.

Cindy Dickson, who is Vuntut Gwich'in, and a third year part time BSW student, admitted that she was a little nervous that nine days would be a long time, and that she would get homesick.

"But the time flew-- we were so busy, from seven a.m. until eleven or twelve at night-- catching fish, preparing meals, sewing, collecting birch bark for baskets, and cleaning up," she said.

Dickson works full time for the Yukon Council of First Nations as the director of circumpolar relations, out of Whitehorse. She used her holiday time to attend the cultural camp.

"We learned how to build community-- everyone was involved, everyone had a role. There was a lot of interaction, so when people needed time to themselves, they went ahead and took that time," she said.

"The elders were great. Along with the everyday stuff, they showed us respect, patience-- a way of being," she added.

While Dickson is uncertain about whether or not she'll practice social work after she graduates from the program since she loves her current job, she thinks the new skills will help her no matter what she does.

"The highlight was definitely the welcome we received when we got here-- from Angie, Nancy, Paul and the others. They made us feel so good. Paul and Ron asked us if we needed water, or wanted wood, and they had dinner ready for us. It was just incredible. And it really set the tone for the whole week," she said.

Dawsonite Aedes Scheer, who was the camp's first aid attendant, also got to participate in the camp activities.

She said that while she and some students were preparing the fire to cook fish one night, they were visited by one elder who told them to make the fire red-hot, and shortly after, another elder came along and insisted that the fire be low.

"Everything was punctuated with humour," said Scheer.

For Erica Turner, a student who plans to complete her BSW in December and then begin practice in the Yukon, the highlight of the camp was the caribou hunt she participated in. She was amazed by the warmth of the animal's body while they prepared the meat.

"That's what tied the whole thing together for me-- the connectedness, respect, and the communal effort," she said.

Turner is originally from Ottawa, but has lived in the Yukon for the past seven years. She was commended at the closing ceremony for being a hard worker. The night before the feast she baked seventeen berry pies, and made Indian ice cream.

"They did good work," said Edith Josie, a Vuntut Gwich'in elder who came to Moosehide to help instruct the students in cutting fish and dry meat and other traditional crafts. Despite all the work, the elder suggested they still managed to find time to sit around and tell stories.

After the students get back to Whitehorse, they have about a week to write a ten page paper about their experience at culture camp-- tying in theories discussed in the human relations course. And they are expected to hand in a daily journal from their time at the camp.

Turner confessed that with all the activity, she was way behind in her journal writing.

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A Swiss Reunion

by Palma Berger


Rudy and Rosemarie Giacometti. Photo by Palma Berger

From the town of Kriens in Switzerland have come several of Dawson's residents over the years. This was brought out when Rudy and Rosemarie Giacometti visited their old friend and old hometown of Dawson this past month.

Rudy, his wife Rosemarie, his friend Otto Blattler, had all gone to school together in Kriens. In high school at that time Rosemarie recalls, she knew that the best thing for Rudy was herself. They began going together.

When Rudy came north he worked in Elsa, and built the coffee shop in Calumet.

He then came to work for Y.C.G.C. in 1956 as a carpenter.

Rudy's mother, Marie Giacometti came to visit her friend John Buss, and brought Rudy's sister Yolanda with her. Pia Blattler who was working in Montreal came to visit her Aunt Marie, and met Otto Blattler and stayed. (Marieís brother, Hans Schaubeck also came with Marie).

Finally Rosemarie came to join Rudy. Times were different then. She arrived in October, but the ice bridges weren't in at Carmacks, or Pelly or Stewart so she had to fly with CPA from Whitehorse to Dawson City. She and Rudy were married by Father Poullet, in St. Mary's church in December 1956 when the temperature was -45?F, making it a memorable day in more ways than one. Their best man was "a charming good-looking young man," known to the family as "Crazy Otto" whom we all know as Otto Blattler.

Their reception was held in the Downtown Hotel, at that time owned by John Jensen.

In 1957 Rudy worked as a clean-up man in the Gold Room, and then in 1959 he became Carpenter Foreman until the Gold Company closed in 1965. They moved to B.C. where Rudy worked in a lumber mill and was Production Manager for 25 years until he retired.

They recalled their Bear Creek days when they lived in a company house on "the island" where there were 12 company houses.; they swam in the swimming hole dredge-pond at Bear Creek. They didn't know much about what went on in Dawson City itself as no one had any real need to go into Dawson, as the company supplied its employees with everything they needed, apart from a school.

What do they think of Dawson now? Rudy says it has changed for the better as so much has been cleaned up and all the new buildings are such an improvement, but Rosemarie echoed what many have said, "except for the mud in the rain."

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Scheer Resigns from Dawson Council

by Dan Davidson

Dawsonites will have the opportunity to pass an interim judgment on their town council a bit sooner than might have been expected. Just about three-quarters of the way through the first year of her second term on council, Aedes Scheer has decided to step down.

Scheer has been contemplating this move since early in the summer.

"I had asked for a leave about a month ago," she said in an interview on July 26, "and I informed council at that time that I was giving some thought to resignation. I wanted to be up front and be fair to them.

The leave having expired, she announced her decision to her council colleagues the week of July 23, effective immediately.

"I wanted to step back from it and try and determine if, in fact, council has been a major point of stress for me and to just isolate some of the things I've been doing. I'm someone who takes on an awful lot of things and stays awfully busy. Sometimes it does get a little overwhelming."

Scheer, who teaches at the Dawson campus of Yukon College, is involved with the Humane Society (which she founded a few years ago) and is a member of the volunteer ambulance crew. A veterinary technician by training, she also fills in for the local vet on his days off.

She was doing a lot of this prior to her reelection last fall, but she was excited about town politics then, and now she's a bit discouraged.

For her one of the turning points was the parting of the ways between the new council and the town manager, Jim Kincaid, just a few months after the election. It was her fate to be deputy mayor while much of that was going on, and she felt a distinct strain in having to implement a settlement that she would prefer to have avoided.

Even before that a minor, but annoying, health problem had popped up (so to speak) and she was beginning to notice that it tended to coincide with periods of tension on council. It seemed that part of her body was trying to tell her something.

"It's nothing that's been diagnosed as being caused by stress, but I think it's a serious enough warning signal that I need to take it seriously."

That wasn't the only problem. In the middle of her last term of office Scheer married Norm Carlson, the town's superintendent of public works. Since that time, the potential for accusations of conflict of interest has always been in the back of her mind, and it seemed to her that there was an increasing list of council items from which she was having to abstain or withhold her opinions. The most recent was the selection of the new town manager. She felt she couldn't be involved in helping to pick her husband's boss, and yet, as a council member, she felt she ought to be involved. The conflict in this case was internal.

The final straw was her decision to take on a three year Masters degree program staring this fall. She has enrolled in a Masters of Science program by distance education from the University of Maryland. While much of this can be done through correspondence course work, on the InterNet and with teleconferencing, there was a residency requirement which had to be handled somehow. She is being permitted to present a research based thesis instead of spending time on campus, but that work, which is going to involve a long term study of caribou parasites, is going to take a lot of time and effort.

"Ten years ago, before I came up here for that six week holiday from which I didn't leave the Yukon, I was starting a masters and I had to put it on the shelf. Of course I never got back to it, so this is really great."

Something had to go though and, in her opinion, council was the area where she was least satisfied with the way her life was going.

"It's been a really challenging term so far. I think it hit all of us hard. I think I have to recognize what I'm capable of and what I can handle."

Within two months of this council taking office it had had to face a number of contentious issues, including a fracas in which the Yukon government seemed to be claiming that the town was almost bankrupt (a position later moderated to the need for a long range plan), the loss of the town manager due to irreconcilable differences, a series of minor crises involving the new recreation complex and a raid on the town offices by the Department of Fisheries.

"I think it's really important that you be able to look yourself in the mirror and be happy with what you're doing."

Will she stay out of local politics forever?

"I've always been pretty political," she said, "and the remote control on the television seems to find its way clicking to the channel for the televised council meetings to be sure."

Her parting advise to her fellow councillors is to govern well and wisely and to make a real effort to keep the meetings below a PG-13 language rating.

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Thunderfest 2001: Strange Things Done

by Grant Klein, President, Klondike Placer Miners Association

It would take more than a few showers to keep the enthusiasts from Thunderfest 2001. The event was held as a fund raiser for the Klondike Placer Miners' Association (KPMA) and was held at the Favrons' Mining Camp on Last Chance Creek. The evening began with a BBQ, door prizes and socializing. Then there was an auction of donated items from blocking and water tanks to used dozer, truck and conveyor parts.

After that came the "car crushing" auction. The lucky bidders were awarded the opportunity to crush derelict vehicles and other assorted items destined for the dump, with a bull dozer or backhoe. Skilled operators were on hand to assist successful bidders operate the machinery. It was a unique opportunity for kids and people who have never operated equipment to feel the power of the huge machines used in placer mining. The crushing went on until 2:00 am.

The entire Favron crew took a full week off mining to prepare for this event. A true sacrifice with the current economic conditions and with only 100 day in which one can sluice. A huge building frame and kids playground were even constructed specifically for this event. The large covered area, which will later become a shop, was a great refuge during the showers.

Thunderfest was held in lieu of the Annual Miners BBQ that has been traditionally held in the Recreation Centre in Dawson. The BBQ has been without an alternate venue for 2 years now while the Rec. Centre is being renovated. The Miners BBQ has always been an important event for miners to come to town and visit with each other, and with other members of the community. The miners are all looking forward to the renovated Recreation Centre to re-establish the Miners BBQ in Dawson.

The Favrons put a tremendous amount of effort into making this an event to remember.

Our hats off to Favron Enterprises Ltd., and all the other people who made this a unique event to remember.

Thanks to everyone who came out.

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River of Culture Tours

by Heather Robb


Travellers on the Luk Cho (formerly the Yukon Lou). Photo by Heather Robb

Interpreter Freda Roberts begins and ends the River of Culture tour-- which aims to highlight First Nations history in the Dawson area-- stressing the importance of the Han language to preserving Han Hwech'in history and culture.

"Juk Drin Hozo!," she said, welcoming visitors boarding the Luk Cho ("King Salmon").

"That means 'good day,'" she added, and soon the guests were reciting it back to her and each other.

The boat tour is run by Han Natural Products, whose parent company is Chief Isaac.

The First Nations owned and operated business employs about eleven people altogether, including the boat crew, the cooking and serving crew on Moosehide Island and the staff at the Little Birch Cabin where reservations and information are available.

"We emphasize the importance of the river, and the revival of our language," said Lisa Hutton, the River of Culture tours operations manager.

She added that the business, which is now in the midst of its first full season, attempts to compliment and share knowledge with other businesses in the area with similar mandates, such as the Cultural Center, Fishwheel Charters and Ancient Voices.

According to Hutton, visitors' response to the tour has been "overwhelmingly positive."

Tickets for the boat tour, which includes a barbecued salmon dinner at Moosehide Island, are $47 for adults and $35 for children (though there is a discount for locals.)

"We want to see First Nations tourism in Dawson and the Yukon grow," she said.

The Luk Cho, which makes trips daily at 3:30 pm and 6 pm, carries up to 47 passengers (plus two crew) at a time-- "as long as they don't all stand on one side," joked Roberts during my trip.

The boat was once a barge that accompanied the sternwheeler Brainstorm as it carried freight up to Old Crow and back. Then in 1972, Dick Stevenson built onto the barge, and operated it as a tour boat called the Yukon Lou. Han Natural Products purchased the boat last year from Scott and Robbie McManus.

The tour began with a venture up river to Tr'ochek-- the site of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in traditional fish camp. Here Roberts described the site's significance.

"Many fish were drawn at that site," she said, and points to look out spots on adjacent cliffs, from which people would signal to the fishermen below where the fish were.

From this camp, Roberts explained, hunters would head up the Klondike and then up Rabbit (Bonanza Creek) to find moose.

While moose hunting, berry and root picking were extremely important, Roberts told visitors that salmon was the most essential part of the people's diet.

Han Hwech'in means "people of the river," she explained.

She also spoke about the impact of the gold rush, and the mining at Tr'ochek.

"Miners staked claims in between people's houses, and the people sold the miners their houses. There were two misunderstandings. Miners bought houses thinking the land and the house was theirs. But the First Nations people thought they sold the houses, and not the land."

So the people living at Tr'ochek were forced out of their homes with the onset of gold seekers. After Chief Isaac met with the Canadian government to discuss the need for his people's relocation, a reserve of 160 acres was established at Moosehide, which is located in traditional hunting ground.

"They had to be happy with that," said Roberts.

After the boat turned around and began heading down river, Roberts pointed out, among other highlights, Moosehide slide. She recounted elder Mary Macleod's legend about it.

"Cannibals were harassing people in this area. The people asked the shaman to get rid of these people. So he went up to the top of the mountain, caused a tree to fall, and that caused a landslide, which carried the cannibals away.

"Now it's a major landmark, because it's white and you can see it from a long ways away," she added.

Moving past Dawson towards Moosehide, Roberts shows visitors the look out point (Suicide point) on the land trail to Moosehide.

"From the river, the point looks like a dog's head-- but then it changes into a man's head, and back into a dog," she said.

For fun, she encouraged us to try to find the image of the dog/man's head in the rock face. Some visitors spotted it immediately. Others (like me) just couldn't find it at all -- even with the photograph of the spot that Roberts presented as an aid. Our ineptness made those who could see it all the more thrilled.

Further down in elevation, closer to the water level, Roberts pointed out a killer whale in the rock face that is easier to recognize. Even I spotted it, and was thrilled.

Once Moosehide is visible, Roberts explained that in order to protect the site, visitors are only allowed to land there during Moosehide gathering.

Pointing out the day school, Roberts began talking about education.

"In 1957 the government stopped funding the day school at Moosehide, and so that forced children to go to school in town."

After the boat lands on Moosehide Island, passengers leave the boat, and enter the wood cabin where the smell of smoked salmon greets them.

Visitors are met by an enthusiastic cooking crew, which, on the day of my visit, included Steve Titus, Dereck Hastings and James MacDonald. When we arrived, they'd already adorned the tables with bowls of fresh bannock, butter and salad. They helped the guests to drinks, and everyone found a seat. Some visitors asked about the bannock. No, there's no fish in it, one cook assured a visitor. Before long the crew is dishing up salmon and baked potatoes.

Titus told me that on a typical day they begin preparing the meal at noon or one o'clock, depending on the number of guests they're expecting. When there are changes to the numbers, they get a radio call from town.

On the way down the river, the relief captain, Roger Mendelsohn, had explained to us that because commercial fishing on the river is restricted, and because the fish caught with the Test Fishery program are given to elders in the area (and then elders in surrounding communities), the fish served at the Moosehide Island dinner comes from the Vancouver area-- and not the Yukon River.

On the way back to town after dinner, Roberts talked about the revival of the language and culture of the Han Hwech'in people that's been happening in the last ten years. In the early 1900's, Chief Isaac entrusted neighbouring Han communities in Eagle and Tanana with the language and traditions of his people, until such time as the people were ready to take it back.

"That's been happening in the past ten years," said Roberts.

Han language is currently being taught in daycare and in school, and to the employees of Tr'ondek Hwech'in.

According to Roberts, the population of the Han Hwech'in is just under 1000. While not all of them live in the area, the community tries to maintain contact with those who live far away. And everyone is, of course, invited to the Moosehide gatherings.

This informative and fun tour of the Yukon river was a wonderful way to begin learning about the people whose history is so centered in the river. For visitors to Dawson, I would recommend the tour, along with a trip to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Dànojà Zhoe (Cultural Center). But I would recommend it all the more strongly to Dawson area residents.

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A Touch of Jamaica at the Inn

by Dan Davidson


Rachel Manley held her audience during a recent pubic reading at Bombay Peggy's Victorian Inn. Photo by Dan Davidson

Non-fiction, Rachel Manley told her audience in the pub at Bombay Peggy's Victorian Inn during her last week in Dawson City, came naturally to her because she was related to people who were larger than life.

This is the Manley family, after all, which provided the majority of Jamaica's first crop of political leaders on both ends of the political spectrum.

This is also a crop of physically large individuals, which makes it all the more surprising that Rachel would weigh in at just a smidgen over five feet. Never mind that though. Once the diminutive lady with the lightly lilting island accent began to read from and talk about her Governor General's Award winning work, a hush fell over the room and everyone listened.

Rachel's writing career began in the realm of poetry, a form which she no longer writes and feels that she strayed into because her grandmother expected it of her. The influence of time spent choosing just the right word for sound and effect still shows in her descriptions and character sketches.

Consider this bit, from his first book, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, and from the first of her readings that afternoon:

"We arrived on the squat double-decker Stratocruiser, watching the whipping propellers, almost transparent, pull us down the avenue of water with its embankment of mountains. In the distance the Palisadoes peninsula beckoned like the island's index finger."

That first reading was about her grandfather, Norman Manley's, return to Jamaica to begin to build up a political party which would take him to the prime minister's office. It dealt with her Pardi's reluctance to reduce complex arguments to slogans.

The second reading focussed on Edna, her grandmother, and on her reaction to the seasons of the islands, which were hers by choice though not by birth.

The third reading covered the night of the referendum which took Jamaican out of the Caribbean commonwealth and had much to do with the breakup of that institution.

For her final reading she moved to Slipstream, the second book in her Manley family trilogy, the one that deals with her father, with whom she had a difficult relationship as a child. The passage she read recalled a day when Michael took her to the beach. The beach and the day came alive in her voice, as did the jealousy which she felt as a child when she had to share her father with the women who seemed to flutter about him like moths around a candle.

In discussion with the audience, Manley agreed that it's probably a bit difficult for Canadian readers to understand the sense of higher purpose and excitement which infused the politics of her father's and grandfather's days in Jamaica.

She also lamented that Jamaica had fallen so far from its original good intentions, blaming much of the social and political failings of the island on its choice location for use by the barons of the international drug trade.

While at Berton House, Rachel Manley worked on the third book in this set, the one which will tell the story of her grandmother.

Drumblair is available in a Vintage Canada trade paperback edition and Slipstream will be out in a similar edition quite soon.

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Sportin' House Music at the ODD Hall

by Dan Davidson


Greg Sumner, Erik Musseau and Lesley O'Connor provided a glimpse into to the music of the 1920s. Photo by Dan Davidson

Sunday afternoon may seem like an odd time to devote to the musical soundtrack that goes with bars and brothels, but working hours being what they are, this is about the only time that those who do the music well can really devote to showing off for the rest of the public.

So the Oddfellows' Hall was home to a couple of dozen avid fans of the form and two combos assembled to show off their wares; Sincopation, they called it.

The afternoon began with fiddler Willie Gordon and pianuh player Barnacle Bob (Hilliard is the last name, but few seem to know it), who have a reputation for holding forth in our modern Dawson establishments. They filled the room with jigs, reels and waltzes until two or three couples just couldn't sit still any more and began to twirl about in the back of the room.

The historical part of the afternoon featured the Sportin' House Trio: Greg Sumner and Lesley O'Connor from the Gaslight Follies and Erik Musseau from Diamond Tooth Gerties.

"Professor" Sumner is the moving force behind recitations of this sort; his love for the music of the rag and jag time may mean he was born half a century too late. Proficient on piano, trumpet, banjo and four string guitar, the Professor also has vocal chops and a way with the delivery of a barrel house tune.

Erik Musseau is no slouch on the keyboards either, and tickled the ivories for most of the set.

Lesley O'Connor has been on the stage at the Palace for a couple of seasons now, and has just taken over the role of alternate Gertie on Lorraine Butler's night off. She provided a couple of stunning examples of just why she is going to be able to carry this off so well.

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Planning for Tr'ochek Heritage Site Requires Community Input

by Heather Robb


A scene at the Tr'ochek Heritage Site. Photo by Heather Robb

For archaeologist T.J. Hammer and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in high school students digging through the dirt at the Tr'ochek Heritage Site, red soil-- rather than gold flecks-- signify the jackpot.

Traces of red soil, usually covered in a layer of ash-- indicate the location of a traditional hearth-- as the heat from the fire oxidizes the soil. Through Tr'ondek Hwech'in oral history, Tr'ochek (which means "mouth of the river") is known to be the site of the traditional fish camp-- the people's home in the summer months before the area was flooded with gold seekers at the turn of the century. The hearth is of course the hub of activity at a fish camp, and so finding one is exciting-- even though it means hours and months of more careful digging and sifting to follow.

One hearth, discovered during shovel tests, was the archaeological team's focus of study for two years. Aside from the red soil, the team found red and white beads, fire cracked rock (rocks heated in the fire, then thrown in pots of water to heat it quickly), stone chips (in making stone tools, the stone that is chipped off is distinctive) and cracked bone (cooked to make bone grease).

Located on a triangular peninsula-- the Tr'ondek (Klondike) River to the north and the Yukon River to the west-- the site has been flooded over and over again through the years, which is both helpful and not helpful, from an archaeological perspective.

"This area has eroded and built back up, eroded and built back again. It could have been used for thousands of years, but we won't know that because of the dynamic environment," explained Hammer.

On the other hand, for studying more recent history, since each flood is marked by a layer of silt, the silt layers help to distinguish different periods of occupation. There is no way of scientifically knowing how much time is represented by the features found between layers of silt, since flooding of course does not occur in consistent time intervals. However the combination of different features within each layer can demonstrate contrast, and reveal changes in technology and lifestyle.

Hammer estimates that the hearth (which made up the team's focus of study for two years) contains features that date back as far as two hundred years. The time of initial contact between Tr'ondek Hwech'in and Europeans is estimated to be around 1840, and so there are both pre-contact and post-contact features in the hearth.

The work at the site has contributed to an understanding of the complexity of contact, and its impact on the First Nation. Before the gold rush, the people were actively trading with neighbouring nations like the Gwitchin people, Southern Tutchone, Northern Tuchtone and Tanana-- and so there was some alteration and integration of European goods like kettles, beads, tobacco and tea-- into traditional ways of life. And evidence suggests that the people retained traditional methods, even when European materials and tools were readily available.

While the archeological exploration contributes to knowledge about the cultural material history of the First Nation, it makes up only one piece of the bigger picture of Tr'ochek's history. Hammer acknowledges that the people's own oral history is the most significant factor in understanding the significance of the site. Written history has also played an important role. And so the study of the site must take into consideration each and all of these kinds of knowledge.

The booklet that was published just this year by the Heritage branch of Yukon Tourism, titled Tr'ochek: The Archaeology and History of a Han Fish Camp portrays the benefits of interaction between different kinds of knowledge. The text was prepared by Hammer and H. Dobrowolsky. There are recent photos of the site, as well as older photos acquired from the First Nation and from various archives throughout North America. And, interspersed throughout the book are quotations from local elders that reveal their stories and experiences of Tr'ochek. The book begins with the words of Doris Adair:

[Lucy Wood] told me when she was a little girl that people used to cut fish over there and it's a homeland to them... it's their land. They argue about that so many times, that's where we originally from, everybody gathers there. If they go hundred miles away, you always, come back to the same spot.

One of the benefits of the ongoing archaeological projects at the Tr'ochek site is that First Nations youth have the opportunity to earn a living while learning about the history of their people, and helping to preserve it. This summer, Tr'ondek Hwech'in students working at both Forty Mile and Tr'ochek site are Kyle Isaac, James Christiansen, Matthew Morgan, Troy Taylor, R.J. Nagano, Douglas Johnson, and Leon Sidney.

Isabelle Corriveau and Dave Meadus, Parks Canada employees, have also participated in the work.

Over the past few weeks, the Cultural Center staff, including Tish Lindgren and Kim Joseph, among others, have been inviting members of the Dawson tourism community to guided tours of the Heritage Site, with the aim of generating public feedback in developing management plans for the site. The Tr'ochek steering committee, established after the TH final agreement in 1998, is now in the midst of a five year planning process for the site, and is currently attempting to identify key issues and priorities for its future use. They're looking for input first and foremost from First Nations citizens, and also from the non aboriginal members of the Dawson community.

During Hammer's discussion with visitors at the site, he also pointed out historical features associated with non aboriginal life at the site-- including traces of the mass transient camps in the area, the railway line, and the Klondike brewery.

As recently as the early nineties, while land claim settlements were still being negotiated, mining activity in the area threatened to obliterate the heritage site. Finally, in 1997 the Canadian government purchased all mining claims in the area (for about one million dollars) to protect the site until land claims were settled.

Objectives for the site, as outlined in the 1998 TH final agreement are first "to recognize, protect, enhance and celebrate Han culture and history;" next "to recognize and respect the non-aboriginal heritage aspects of the site related to the Klondike gold rush;" and finally to provide "economic opportunities for the Tr'ondek Hwech'in through the creation of a first class tourist attraction."

While the steering committee assesses potential plans for the site, historian John Neufeld has submitted a board paper to the national department of Heritage, proposing that Tr'ochek be established as a national historic site. The heritage board, made up of people from all across Canada (including Gerald Isaac from the Yukon) meets next in the fall, and will consider Neufeld's paper at that time. The board actually visited Tr'ochek last summer.

According to Gary McMillan, superintendent of Parks Canada in Dawson and a member of the Tr'ochek steering committee, the board's job is to assess whether proposed sites have historical value on the national scene.

McMillan stated that status as a national historic site could simply involve the erection of a plaque, but could also mean funding to enhance the site.

Ultimately, the decision as to what will be done at Tr'ochek is up to First Nations citizens and particularly Chief in Council, McMillan said.

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