Story & photos
by Dan Davidson
2014 is the first year that the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department’s Myth and Medium event can live up to its promotion and actually be biennial. Prior to the last gathering in 2012 there had been two annual events in 2004 and 2005, and then a long hiatus. During her introductions on the evening of February 24, the department’s traditional knowledge specialist, Jody Beaumont, gave credit to TH CEO Jackie Olsen, who was the Heritage Department director when Myth and Medium was relaunched after its long break.
This evening began with a prayer and a short address by 86-year-old Percy Henry, who described himself as being a young elder. He said he got that idea from his father, Joe. Joe was born in 1898 and when Percy used to ask him questions about things, Joe would often say that he himself was too young to know that.
Percy, who was chief of the Dawson Indian Band (as it was then known) when Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was taken to Ottawa to become the beginning of the Land Claims process, has been talking with and advising young people for some time now.
The youth, he told the packed auditorium at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, want to know where they’re going to find their grassroots knowledge and who will teach them.
“Today there’s very few elders left. I guess I’m just about the oldest one left,” he said, “but I was born in 1927. My dad was born in ‘98 and when I asked him some questions he would say, ‘Too young – I can’t tell you much.’
“We tell stories. We don’t write it. We just keep it,” he pointed to his head. “It’s what we try and carry on with. The young people are moving and they want to know who’s going to teach them.
“We have a beautiful town, the tourists tell me,” he concluded to a warm round of applause.
Jackie Olsen welcomed everyone to the gathering, especially the elders and the artists. She had been determined, when Myth and Medium was rebooted in 2012, to have something about art in it, but it filled up with heritage and stories. This time around she pushed for art again.
“Heritage is good, but I’m all about art,” she said, raising laughter from the audience.
“When I started in heritage one of my goals was to really get our heritage back out into the community, sharing. One of the things that was very successful in the past was Myth and Medium. Getting together and talking about things on a casual level, sharing things and talking about how we are doing things in our Heritage Department and what we’re doing in the community as a member.
“I think art is really connected to heritage and culture, and as we’re trying to regain that culture and regain our knowledge it’s really important to look at what inspires us around us, using our environment.
“As an artist myself, I really use the land and what it provides to come up with my inspiration and creativity, and I’m really hoping that our creative members in the community will be able to do that as well.”
Olsen issued an invitation to other communities to hold similar conferences and said she’d certainly be happy to attend them if they did, but if it didn’t happen, she thought it likely that 2016 would see another event here.
As part of the TH economic development plan, the First Nation has been working with both the City of Dawson and the Dawson City Arts Society on a number of projects. Olsen mentioned the pilot project Artists’ Market, which was held in the town’s picnic shelter on Front Street last summer on Saturdays, and thanked everyone who was involved with making that work.
“Let’s build up some of the skills in the community and really look at what Dawson can offer our visitors that is unique and you can only get it here.”
With that said, and a welcome from Deputy Chief Jay Farr, the evening kicked off the week with a book launch and two artists’ talks, carrying on until well past 10 p.m.