Great Alaska Adventure: Cultural Festival in Whitehorse
Today was a play day in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. We looked through a list of local events and came across the adaka Cultural Festivalat the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center in the heart of downtown. Advertised as “A Celebration of Yukon’s Diverse and Distinctive First Nations Arts and Culture,” it fully lived up to its billing.
Marilyn and I went but Hanna decided to stay in the hotel all day rather than spend time with her grandparents. She doesn’t appear to be having much fun on the Great Alaska Adventure. It could be a long trip. Or not.
But Marilyn and I had a great time, beginning with a free “Community Feast” of slow cooked roast beef, baked Arctic Char, potato salad, pasta salad, drinks, and triple berry crumb-something for desert. They fed everyone who showed up. And the festival itself was free, too. I really like these people.
We joined several folks at an open lunch table and, in addition to enjoying a good lunch, enjoyed our conversations about living in Yukon Territory. Everyone at the table said they mostly get used to the 22 hour days in the summer and the 22 hour nights in the winter, though they did admit they slept more in the winter than the summer. And the gorgeous–abeit short–spring, summer and fall, make the very long winter worthwhile.
The Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center, poised on the banks of the fast-flowing Yukon River, is a beautiful facility with an art galley, art studios, class rooms, and a large performance/meeting hall. In addition, three large temporary tents on the grounds housed several dozen artists who demonstrated their traditional techniques, offered hands-on help in learning the skills involved, and were all very friendly and as interested in us as we were in them.
The juried art work in the gallery was a mix of traditional crafts such as wood carving, beading and moccasin making and non-traditional work such as oil painting. All of the work was beautiful but impractical to buy on a motorcycle trip and a little out of our price range, though I really had my heart set on a $15,000 hand crafted wooden box. Almost all the artists were members of one of the Yukon First Nations tribes, including the Tlingit whose specific cultural center we stopped at yesterday in Teslin.
But the multiple highlights of the day came from listening to a dozen groups sing and drum and watching them dance. Their regalia was always interesting and often downright remarkable with intricate beadwork and designs on hand-cured caribou or moose hides. I’m going to post a few more pictures than usual to show some of the gorgeous costumes worn by the singers and dancers. One of the first performances on the agenda was the “dancing” of four new robes painstakingly created by weavers who are very much honored in their tribes. The robes/blankets tell a story, usually about a family, and are passed on from generation to generation.
What was most interesting today, to me at least, was the constant reference to “passing on traditions” to the next generation. They value their young people and honor their family roots and their elders.
There is a great effort, as evidenced by this festival, to preserve and pass on the language, the stories and the way of life that sustained these people and their ancestors for thousands of years but which all seem to be disappearing under the onslaught of Global Cultural Change as rapidly as glaciers are disappearing under the onslaught of Global Climate Change. I wish it could be otherwise, but I think traditional cultures and a livable climate are both on the way out.
I’ll relate one more goose-bump raising detail from today’s event. At the very end of the on-stage performances, the final group of singers/dancers led everyone outside to a fire pit for an all-community drum circle and singing. At one point, a woman who had done solo work inside for one of the groups said she was going to sing an eagle prayer. About two minutes into her song, fingers started to point into the cloudless blue sky where an eagle soared in the air high above the Yukon River. It was amazing to behold. I’ll let you judge if it was just coincidence.
Tomorrow we continue toward Alaska through the Yukon Territory with a stop for the night at Buckshot Betty’s in Beaver Creek.