Dawson City, Yukon Friday, June 13, 1997

Annie Henry expresses her delight at the Moosehide outing. The clouds in her eyes are mere reflections.

Feature Stories

After 23 Years, a Land Claims Settlement at Last!
Graduation is the Result of Positive Choices
Dyea to Dawson Challenge
Dome Dump to Close at Last
Fire Threatens Henderson's Corner
Tr'on dek Hwech'in Work on Graveyard Cleanups to Honour the Past
Olga Nelson Returns to the Scene of Her "Happy Years"
Tearful Farewells End a Happy Week of Adventure

After 23 Years, a Land Claims Settlement at Last!

from the Tr'on dek Land Claims Office

The Tr'on dek Hwech'in have concluded Land Claims negotiations. After 23 years, the seemingly endless process ended. "I'm stunned", stated Chief Steve Taylor. "I was beginning to think it would never happen." "Wake me up, I think I'm dreaming", exclaimed a dazed Michael Mason.

The breakthrough occurred at 2.15 PM, Saturday, May 24, at the end of a marathon two week negotiating session. Negotiations had proceeded for 151/2 hours the previous day, finally sputtering out at 11:30 PM when participants were becoming incoherent. At 8 AM the following morning negotiations resumed. Government negotiators had already delayed their departure, and declared that they were heading to the airport at 1:00, no matter what. At 2:15 the Parties reached agreement.

Final Agreement highlights

Self-Government Agreement highlights


In this historical photo from the Yukon Archives, the Han people are pictured living along the Yukon River. This photo was provided by the Land Claims Office of the Tro'on dek Hwech'in. The original is from the Veazie Wilson collection at the Archives.

The Parties (TR'ON DEK HWECH'IN, Canada, Yukon) must also negotiate an Implementation Plan, a Financial Transfer Agreement, and a Programs and Services Transfer Agreement. When all of that is finished, an Information Campaign will take place to present and explain the Agreements to Tr'on dek Hwech'in citizens. Then a Ratification vote will take place, in which 50% plus one of the eligible Tr'on dek Hwech'in electorate must vote to approve the Agreements. Following approval by Tr'on dek Hwech'in, Yukon and Canada must ratify the Agreements.

If everything goes smooth, the Tr'on dek Hwech'in Land Claims Agreements will come into effect near the end of 1997.

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Graduation is the Result of Positive Choices

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff


The 1997 Graduating Class: Tiel Ryant, Kevin McCauley, Joe Fraser, Clint Brickner, Tina Grenon, Onica Sprokkreeff, Frances Kormendy. Photo by Dan Davidson.

"They certainly are a fine looking group of young people, aren't they?"

Clint Brickner, Joe Fraser, Tina Grenon, Frances Kormendy, Kevin McCauley, Tiel Ryant and Onica Sprokkreeff squirmed a bit to hear it, and grinned with a bit more effort than usual. Some were inclined to blush or burst into tears as the afternoon ceremony drew to a close, but no one watching would have disputed Vice-principal Shirley Pennell's closing comment at this year's graduation exercises at the Robert Service School, held here on May 30.

Pennell has been at the school for the entire life of this year's grad class and had taught most of them in some capacity since grade 7, so hers was an appropriate voice to send them off to their parents and friends.

It was an average sized class of students this year, seven in all. They had been together, with a few interruptions, since grade 7, except for one member of the class who started a year behind and was accelerated to join them in grade 9.

Two of this year's group were First Nation's students. Edit Fraser, representing the Tr'ondek Hwech'in council, addressed them as well as the others.

"Our First nation is especially proud to have two of our young people graduating today... It is absolutely important that our young people know how proud we are of their successes as a community. Each year as more of our young people are graduating and going out into the world, we as a nation and a community keep getting stronger and prouder."

Quotations formed a big part of this year's event.

School council chair Helen Winton reached back to the writings of the ancient Greek, Escalus, for her contribution: "He who learns must suffer and even in our sleep the pain we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon our heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

So, she concluded wryly, after these young adults had had lots of suffering in the last 12 or 13 years, hopefully the end result has been a growth of skills and wisdom that will help them in the years ahead.

Speaking on behalf of the City of Dawson, councillor Denny Kobayashi contributed a few lines from Franklin D. Roosevelt: "The young make the mistake of thinking that education can take the place of experience and the old that experience can take the place of education."

He leavened the mix with words from Indira Gandhi: "Grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try and be in the first group; there was far less competition."

"Graduates," he concluded, "our community is honoured by your accomplishments. You represent our future and if you are an example of what we can expect I think it will be a very bright one indeed."

Valedictorian Clint Brickner began his remarks with a round of thanks to parents, fellow graduates. To his teachers he admitted, "I know that we've been rough on you sometimes during the past few years, but that's alright. We had to add a little spice into your life."

Before roasting each of his fellow classmates slightly, Clint noted the pride and sense of continuity that events like this create: "Those who graduated before us made us more determined to graduate, those who will follow it is your envy of an event such as this that makes us so proud."

He gave his fellow grads a lot of credit for his own stamina; with them as classmates, no day was so boring as to inspire him to quit.

Regional Superintendent Carol McCauley was the main speaker at the event, and found that her role as a parent was a mixed blessing.

"I thought last year that I might get over getting up and having one of my children on stage while I said a few words, but it doesn't get any easier to do this."

Graduations are very special occasions in the rural schools, she said, because of the small sizes of the communities. Dawson is the largest town in the area that she serves as a regional superintendent, but it is the same here. The setting is intimate.

"I see the great pride on the parents' faces and on the teachers' faces when the students reach this point. I know the students and I know who they are and when I'm asked to make a presentation it isn't in a big room of 300 people wondering who's going to receive this envelope. I know them all by name, I usually know their parents and I certainly know all their teachers.

"Graduation is usually thought of as an event, and that's right, it's a wonderful event. The problem with thinking of it as an event is that we sometimes think of it as a destination in itself. I prefer to think of graduation as not just an end point, but as a pause in a process.

"'Change is a process not an event,'" she quoted, "and I like to think of education the same way. It's not just the learning that happens within the walls of the school or within the realm of the classroom. It's a process that begins at home and it's a process that goes until the end of your life. We must all be open to the learning opportunities that lie there...School is just one portion of that activity and graduation is just a point at the end of that school trail where you can stop and look back at what you've done so far and then set your direction for the course ahead.

"I would like to commend each of you for making the choice to be here today. For as much as you think that you may be here because your parents made you or your teachers got after you or your community expected it, the real choice was yours. You chose to wear that cap and gown today. You chose to finish school and you chose to sit on this stage this afternoon. We couldn't make you. We might like to have been a bit responsible but, knowing teenagers today, if you didn't want to be there, you wouldn't be.

"The power of choice is something you have to think about as you continue on with your learning... You've made a great choice in being here today and my wish for you is that you will continue to make positive choices in which you will allow yourselves to use the many talents that you possess and realize your dreams...Don't forget, the learning goes on forever."

In his closing remarks, Principal John Reid echoed the theme of choice, both praising and cautioning the grads: "You have a reason to be proud today. Today's a day to relax and enjoy. This evening don't cross the stupid line. Take smart risks."

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Dyea to Dawson Challenge

One June 15th, 15 people from Dawson City will be leaving for the 1st Annual Dyea to Dawson Race. The race is a celebration of the great stampede of 1897. In 1897 many thousands of people hiked the Chilkoot, crossed the lakes and travelled the Yukon River to Dawson City, in search of gold. The trail was long and hard.

This year 100 people from the Yukon and Alaska will brave the same trip. Fifty teams will leave Dyea by foot with a 30 lb. pack strapped to each team member's back. At the end of the Chilkoot Trail, teams will continue the race in a canoe. There are three lakes to cross before arriving in Whitehorse. There is a 12 hour stay in Whitehorse. The trip continues crossing Lake Laberge then down the Yukon River to Dawson City. In Dawson teams are required to stake a claim in town and register the claim at the Centennial office. The registration of the claim marks the end of the race for the team.

Race organizers expect all the teams in Dawson City before July 1,1997. Eight teams from Dawson will be participating. Come out and cheer them on as they arrive in town. We wish all the participants GOOD LUCK!

Entering from Dawson are the following teams:

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Dome Dump to Close at Last

By Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

On many a clear day you can see smoke rising from the Dome. Up at the fire tower on the second dome the watcher look anxiously in the direction of the Dawson dump and frets about just how safe it is to have an open dump smack in the middle a wooded area, just a stone's throw from a residential sub-division.

As of June 9 there will be a little bit less to worry about. On that date the dump, which has been open to residents to visit independently, will be barred to all but official City of Dawson traffic. The public will be locked out and independent garbage fires will cease.

Fire Chief Pat Cayen says it's a "necessary move for the sake of safety. The road will be fenced off and a general mailer will be going out to everybody."

It's also the first step in the complete closure of the dump and relocation of Dawson's waste disposal to the Quigley Pit at the edge of town. That will take place by the fall.

"YTG has assisted the city in speeding this up (the transfer) and letting us in there a little sooner," Cayen says.

Talk of closing the Dome dump has been a regular feature of city life for at least the last decade and certainly since the Dome housing lots were opened, but action has always seemed to be just another study away. In fact, the Quigley solution is still seen by council as an interim measure until a better site can be selected.

Even at that, the longer haul to the edge of town will have an impact on the cost of garbage collection in Dawson and it is expected that the next contract will be more expensive. It will also have to take in collection for the refuse at the Dome lots. Until that is settled, however, Dome residents themselves will have to make the trek to Quigley to dump their garbage bags.

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Fire Threatens Henderson's Corner

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

Gordon Burns was having disaster flashbacks on Thursday afternoon as he considered the trench that had helped to divert a major fire just about 30 metres from his home.

The Burns' family home was destroyed by fire in 1985, one of a series of tragedies which eventually led to the formation of the Klondike Valley Fire Department, and for awhile on May 29, it looked like history was about to repeat itself.

"It looked pretty bad when I came out (from town)," Burns said. "It was so smoky that you couldn't see anything but flames and smoke everywhere."

It looked very much like several homes were on fire at that point, but, as if turned out, none were lost. Burns was not the only one to make that mistake. Josh Paton, a grade 9 student interviewed late in the afternoon by CBC radio, believed that he could see three houses burning.

Jeff Stephenson, chief of the volunteer KVFD, says that the house were, in fact, surrounded by fire, but the combination of attack by their department, the Dawson department and the forestry crews that are already stationed at the airport for the summer was enough to keep things from getting worse.

By 5:30 Mitch Ryant, holding down the communications post at the fire station in Rock Creek, was reporting that the fire, which had spread through the underbrush and scrub growth in the community, was pretty much under control and the crews were mopping up hot spots.

A helicopter and two water bombers were in the air, saturating the surrounding bushes, while the fire trucks closed in on endangered houses, spraying them down and keeping the fire back.

Local resident Ian Fraser was out on his D6 bulldozer, trenching around some of the buildings, and helping to keep the damage to a minimum.

The fire seems to have begun around 2:30 in the brush and fields. No one was sure just how on Thursday evening. Stephenson says that there actually was grave danger to the community, first to four homes and later, as a heavy wind sprang up, to the entire settlement.

"We didn't lose any residences at all. There were a few outbuildings and sheds and stuff like that -- an old garage -- that are basically toast."

One fellow who was living in a nicely set up wall tent lost his dwelling and his belongings.

Forestry air support attacked the brush around the area and between the buildings while the ground forces saved the buildings.

"The response was...just excellent, with all the departments coming together as mutual aid working to its best. There were flames on the sides of a couple of buildings there and the timing was just perfect. It was a pretty good pulling together of all the locals around."

Several years of practice and preparation came together with a little bit of luck to win the day for the firefighters. The damage was mostly to the brush.

"That's natural," Stephenson added, "every few years, so now it's been burnt out and we've got a safe haven again."

The smoke of rumour and fear spread just as fast as the fire, and had hit Dawson, where Stephenson works, in a very short time.

"The stories I heard (at work) were so bad I couldn't believe it, so it was just pedal to the metal to be at home. In the excitement, people do get carried away. Each community has had its share of flames."

The Klondike Highway south from Dawson to Hendersons Corner was closed for several hours during the afternoon and early evening, but had reopened by 9 PM. It's a sign of the season that the line-ups in either direction were quite long.

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Tr'on dek Hwech'in Work on Graveyard Cleanups to Honour the Past

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff


William Henry wheels Grampa Joe around the Moosehide grounds. Sure beats walking, eh?

Honouring the past by working in the present and looking towards the future was very much the theme of two recent activities carried out by the Tr'on dek Hwech'in here in Dawson.

The first nation tribes in this area have a couple of burial sites, one in Dawson and one down river at Moosehide, which require annual attention. Debbie Nagano, Cultural Program Coordinator for the Tr'on dek Hwech'in, described the cleanups in this way.

"The purpose behind it is to respect the gravesite and the people that are buried down there. We go down (to Moosehide) every year."

Gatherings at Moosehide always require a bit of coordination. On June 1 three boats ferried people down and back and band members brought along food for the day. About thirty people, a mixed group of young and old, had showed up by 11 AM for day of raking, cutting, brush thinning and general cleaning up which didn't end until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

It's hard to say how many people are buried in Moosehide, since many of the graves are unmarked.

Young people also participated in this day, doing their bit of the work and learning about the importance of it for the years to come.

During the evening the workers made a bit of a party and had some fun with simple games like musical chairs, an axe throw and threading the needle (with sinew, in case you think it was easy).

"I think we made our way up (to Dawson) about 10 or 11 that night."

Nagano figures they accomplished about and finished half of the work that's needed, so another work day is being planned for the weekend of June 14.

The week before the Moosehide gathering Tr'on dek Hwech'in members also spent a day working on the Dome graveyard. Nagano says it was the first time that this has been done recently, that there is still a lot of work to do up there and they just made a start.

During the week of June 3 to 5 the a number of Tr'on dek Hwech'in people participated in a Han literacy workshop.

Regular programs include the publication of an irregular newsletter, Kentra-Tay, and weekly events such as teen nights, a women's circle, and a sharing circle.

A family cultural camp is being planned for July 7-18 at Moosehide, and band members will be participating in the Eagle Flotilla on June 21 as well.

The theme for the camp will be Healthy Relationships, and it will feature counselling, sharing circles, cross-cultural workshops, healthy parenting and relationships, dealing with FAS-FAE, traditional games, drum making, self-esteem, healing, the wellness wheel and many events featuring traditional Han songs and dances.

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Olga Nelson Returns to the Scene of Her "Happy Years"

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

Almost seven years after her death at the age of 91, Olga Nelson has come home at last. Her ashes were scattered on the Yukon River on June 1 by her daughter, Sonja.

Earlier in the day, the urn containing Olga's remains was the subject of a special meditation at Saint Paul's Anglican Church, where Lay reader Shirley Pennell presented her history to the congregation fro a text prepared by Sonja Sim, who is now a resident of Port Alberni, along with her husband, George Sim.

Born in Esse, Finland, in 1895, Olga Maans travelled to Vancouver in the early 1930s and lived there for a time before making the train journey to Whitehorse. Her friend, Elvi Hagglund was in Dawson and it was here that Olga met a married Ragnar Nelson. Sonja was born at St. Mary's Hospital two years later, in 1938.

Olga's 22 years in Dawson were recalled by her as her "happy years". She was by turns a nanny and a janitor at both the Occidental Hotel and the school. She looked after women who were in jail and enjoyed teaching them to play canasta. She knit mittens for the mounties and spent many hours by the Yukon River with her dog, Happy. She always felt that her roots went back to Dawson, even years later.

Sonja went Outside to Vancouver at the age of 16 and Olga followed not long after, settling in Port Alberni. Ragnar Nelson continued to live in Dawson, coming out for Sonja's wedding in 1961 and dying here later that year. He is buried in the YOOP cemetery.

The Sims settled in Port Alberni. Olga lived there on her own until the age of 91, when she had to enter an extended care facility, where she died in 1990 at the age of 96.

Aside from her daughter, she is survived by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The Sims say that she had a good life in Port Alberni, but it never replaced her memories of the Yukon, or changed her wish to be brought back here after she died. This May the Second Dawson Schools Reunion offered the Sims a good excuse to come back to the Yukon themselves, and they brought Olga's urn with them. After the Morning Prayer service at Saint Paul's they made their way to the former CIBC building by the Yukon River and scattered Olga's ashes in the current. Watching the river had been one of her favorite memories and now she is a part of it.

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Tearful Farewells End a Happy Week of Adventure

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff


SEVEC exchange students from Beauceville, Quebec, are greeted by their Dawson partners as they arrive for a five-day stay in the Klondike. Photo by Dan Davidson.

It's 2:30 on Friday morning and there's hardly a dry eye on the boardwalk in front of the Robert Service School.

The boys are walking around with fixed grins on their faces, making tough sounding remarks to prove how stoic they are. But when one of the visiting girls from Beauceville, Quebec, stops one to give him a tearful hug you can see the facade slip. The same is true for the male contingent from Beauceville.

The girls are openly in pain, awash with sentiment, hugging each other, their host parents, sponsor teachers, anyone who can lend a bit of moral and emotional support in the wee hours of the morning.

The sun may be thinking seriously about rising just behind the Dome, but the sun is setting on the final leg of this student exchange saga, and everyone is upset. Clearly, any observations about two solitudes or national unity would meet with total incomprehension at this point in the week.

The farewell party has been going on since 10 PM the previous evening. Before that everyone met at the Top of the World Golf Course for a group supper and an hour on the driving range. Packing had been completed by then and bags stowed for travel at the school after a long day spent at the Hakonson Gold Mine near Sixtymile.

Most of the days since their arrival on May 31 -- the day after school ended here -- have been that packed.

Sunday morning everyone rushed around town in a tourism based scavenger hunt,, getting to know all the major locations in the community while vying for first prize -- a helicopter ride. Later they were impressed by the Commissioner's Residence, the Dawson City Museum, an evening performance at the Palace Grand and a tour of the Dome.

Since then the days have just been packed: a day trip to Tombstone, tours of the Bear Creek compound, Bonanza Creek, Dredge #4, Moosehide Village, Greg Hakonson's gold mine; an evening at Diamond Tooth Gerties, evening parties at the homes of the hosts; long walks around town, shopping and hours spent just communicating with each other.

As the host parents noted, their own kids and the visitors came back home exhausted each night and went straight to bed without a single argument.

According to their sponsor teachers, the students from Beauceville were very impressed by the land in the Yukon, the mountains surrounding Dawson and the Olgivies in the distance on the Dempster Highway. Then there was the sun, which shone a little later into the evening each day that they were here.

Beauce students noticed that everyone in Dawson seemed to have a backpack and that a lot of people used bicycles. They saw that even very young children seemed to be out late at night -- such as the night is this time of year.

"There are a lot of bars in Dawson," said Paul Rodrique, adding that they seemed to be packed every night of the week, which is not the norm south of Quebec City. 'In Quebec we see this on the weekend, ici (here), all the week."

In Quebec there is also a distinction made between the kind of clothing kids wear during the week and what they wear on the weekend. Students dress a bit more formally when they are at school. This doesn't seem to be the case here, he observed.

Teacher André Gallant was impressed by the wide range of places represented in the guest book at the Museum: "It's international."

Reflecting on the trip itself, Gallant said. "We have a large country. Canada is very large. On the map it's own thing, but after 17 hours of plane and bus -- it's a great country."

Students from the Beauce area haven't travelled a lot within Canada, though many of them have vacationed in American locales such as Florida, so this trip was a real eye-opener for them. They were actually more eager to have an exchange with Dawson than they would have been to go to Victoria because, for them, Dawson was the more exotic locale.

Local students, who had a wonderful time in Beauceville back in March, were afraid that their southern chums would be bored in the isolated Klondike, but their was no fear of that. It was bit of a revelation for the locals as well, to see their guests impressed by aspects and an artifacts that they have long since accepted as commonplace.

The area of Beauce is no stranger to either gold or the Klondike, actually. In 1834 the first gold rush in Canada took place in the Beauce area, triggered by the discovery of a nugget the size of a pigeon's egg.

In 1902 Beauce expatriates Napoléon Bouthillet, Guy Beaudoin and a Monsieur Constantin were killed at Murderers Island, near Dawson City.

Early Friday morning the Norline bus rolled away from the front of the school, students from both schools waving and calling out farewells in the predawn light. Addresses and gifts had been exchanged all evening and it was time at last to say good-bye. It wasn't easy for anyone. Friendships have been forged during these visits which will make it much harder for either set of students to react without thinking to regional stereotypes when they are old enough to vote.

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