Our return on the Dempster Highway again reminded us that this is the most beautiful road we’ve ever driven, even if it is 1000 miles of mud and gravel roundtrip to Inuvik, near the Arctic Ocean. We did get to see grizzly bears up close, just the way we like…from the safety of our vehicle, and not at all on the Grizzly Bear Trail we hiked in Tombstone NP.
I had to go to the library and do research with the Dawson City, Yukon Territory librarian to understand the relationships between the Canadian aboriginal people, and with their federal government. Maybe Venn diagrams would be more useful but here’s what we can summarize. Three political groupings of Aboriginal live in Canada: the Inuit (70% of the Nunavut Territory population, and thus completely self-governing) speaking Inuktituk, living in the Arctic, and relying still on the subsistence hunter tradition; the Metis; and members of the First Nations Assembly eg. all other aboriginals. Each of these groups negotiates as a foreign entity, being more or less successful depending on their saavy and marketable resources.
Having experienced the warmth and generosity of the Inuit during our stint as volunteers at the ten day, “Great Northern Arts Festival” in Inuvik, NT, we couldn’t resist an invitation to visit the “Moosehide Gathering” of the Han aboriginal people on the Yukon River. It occurs every two years and is newly open to the public. They ferried us downstream by speed boat to a valley cut into these cliffs, and prepared dinner for all present free of charge: moose on the menu.
A small gathering, but most of the attendees were tribal elders; we were impressed by the attention to the elders from the moment they approached the boats, to the ATV rides up the hill to the Gathering, front row seating, and a warm building to hang out and drink/eat, that was prepared just for them, as it was raining during most of the Festival. Traditional drumming and dancing, and the lighting of the sacred fire during the Opening Ceremony was intimate and very personal.
Many volunteers were present to assist, including troops of, “Junior Rangers”, like the boy in the featured photo. He explained they were like Boy Scouts, except they get to shoot guns, and spend more time out in the Bush hiking, camping and fishing. Gee, if our Boy Scouts offered shooting, even my son at that age would have joined a troop, even if it meant escorting the elders around the Gathering!
We left the Yukon the following day by ferry crossing the Yukon River seen above, and driving the gravel topped, “Top of the World Highway” to Alaska. It was the same potholed, washboard gravel as the Dempster Highway to the Western Arctic, but it was strangely “dead”. The Spruce Mountain Beetle, that normally get killed off every 4-5 years with -40 degree temperatures for a few weeks in winter, has devastated the forest, as have numerous forest fires; the ridge road is a view of dead forest, with no birdsong and no animals. Instead we recall the healthy tundra near the Arctic (that does have sub-40 degree freezes), where every stump becomes covered with plants and berries, calling the bears and birds.