Story and Photo by Hannah Eden
Moosehide Gathering preparations have officially begun with the latest edition to the three day feast – a bull moose. The moose was shot and killed by Ryan Peterson, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Fish and Wildlife Steward with the help of friend Bobby Blanchard, his daughter Mikaila and friend Kalilah Olson in the early hours of the morning on Thursday July 10th.
The 1250 pound bull male was shot shortly after 5 a.m. – a long four hours after the group departed along the dawn-soaked Dempster Highway to provide for the gathering.
Moosehide Gathering, a celebration of traditions hosted by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation, is to be held on Thursday July 24 to Sunday July 27 at Moosehide Village, 3 km down river of Dawson City. The gathering is open to anyone who wants to experience traditional dance, song and workshops provided by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and surrounding nations.
With this in mind, organizers realized that food may be in short supply after a moose donated by the RCMP proved too small.
“We were at work and we needed a moose for Moosehide Gathering and since I am working for Ryan Peterson with Fish and Wildlife, we went and got a moose as it was our responsibility,” says Mikaila Blanchard.
“We were driving everywhere up the Dempster to see if we could see a moose and we got to Two Moose Lake and there were four.”
With an antler spread of nearly 60 inches, the moose is sure to feed the thousands that are likely to attend the gathering.
“Based on the last (gathering), 3000 people attended,” says Tyla Crowe, Moosehide Gathering coordinator.
“We feed up to 1000 people a day. The people that are doing the dinner are going to do a head count in the lineup to figure out how many people are there.”
For the two young hunters, Mikaila Blanchard and Kalilah Olson, the experience was something they are not likely to forget – to transport the moose back to Dawson City was a job for experts in traditional First Nation hunting techniques.
As is tradition, the severed head must be facing away from the body while the rest of the moose is prepared for transportation. Once back in Dawson City, both girls tried their hand at traditional preparations by skinning the head.
“That was my first time skinning a moose head,” says Blanchard. “I had never seen anyone do that before. We were just figuring it out as we went – it worked!”
Both young women were not fazed by the situation and calmly took to completing the task ahead.
“You can’t really say it’s gross because its disrespectful to the animals and then they are not going to want to be shot by you anymore,” says Blanchard.
“Then you’re not going to get a moose. You can’t be cutting up the body and be saying ‘ew’ and ‘gross’ because it’s disrespectful to the animal.”
The generous free feast provided by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is not the only magical moment awaiting guests – hundreds of traditional dancers from Alaska and the Yukon will be performing: a real first hand taste of the spirit of the North.
“It’s the only other festival in the Yukon where almost every First Nation dance troop will be here and perform,” shares Crowe.
“It’s a huge insight into Aboriginal culture. Of all the ways you can experience the heart of the people, the best is through its music. A really important part of the gathering is all the indigenous groups that are coming from Alaska.”
Celebrated every two years, Moosehide Gathering is not to be missed: culture and heritage is ready to be explored at Moosehide Village.
“They [Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation] hadn’t had a big celebration in many generations and so it was the first,” explains Crowe. “It was the start of taking their culture back.”
Formed 11 years ago after a resurgence to regain culture that was at a loss, the gathering at Moosehide village is on sacred land, one which all visitors are expected to respect by adhering to the no drink or drugs policy.
“The Moosehide Gathering took place for the first time when the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people were really trying to be focused on cultural revitalization,” shares Crowe.
“It was around the time they signed their final agreement and they became a self-governing nation. And they had a really good focus on re-learning their traditional language- a lot of it had been lost.”
If you are feeling crafty, there is a plethora of workshops to choose from: bead work to drums, from fiddle music to heritage lessons. There is something for everyone at this year’s Moosehide Gathering.