DIFFERENT LIVES - ONE COMMUNITY
Talking about what happened to First Nation houses at Fort
I remember that long time ago Mackenzie Indian, lots come
down under an old bush there (the flat upriver of the Yukon Field Force site).
Gamble stake. And they gamble going on. And Selkirk Indian or Mackenzie
Indian, all playing the gamble. For two weeks steady. Dum, dum, dum,
dum, dum, dum...
-Tommy McGinty (FSEOHP, 1985, p. 204)
Northern Tutchone people had made use of the Fort Selkirk area
for thousands of years. From 1889, they shared occupation of the
site with non-native traders, missionaries and settlers. For the
Northern Tutchone People, Fort Selkirk was a gathering place for
trade, celebrations and visiting. The rest of the year was spent
on the trapline, at the wood camp, at fish camps and other
pursuits on the land. Consequently, when they stayed at Fort
Selkirk, their structures tended to be small, portable and easily
heated. There were few cabins, most people staying in wall tents.
It was customary to bum or recycle buildings for firewood when
they were no longer needed. Although a number of non-natives also
used Selkirk as a base for trapping and trading operations in the
outlying country, they considered the settlement to be more of a
permanent townsite where people lived year round. This is
reflected in the layout, scale and permanence of their buildings.
The two cultures depended on each other. First Nations people
took advantage of many of the goods, services and employment
opportunities provided by the new culture. The newcomers learnt
much about living on the land from the first peoples. The
non-native trading posts were located at Fort Selkirk to take
advantage of the well-established fur trade in the area. First
Nations people worked seasonally in the nearby wood camps and
became skilled in piloting great cordwood rafts downriver to
Dawson. A number of prominent families in the area - the Horsfalls,
the Blanchards, the Van Bibbers - were founded from marriages
between the two cultures.
There were negative aspects to this inter-relationship. With
the incursion of "Outsiders", the Selkirk First Nation
suffered the effects of social change, epidemics and game
depletion. Nonetheless, they continued to adapt and survive.
Whether fighting a forest fire that threatened the townsite or
celebrating a christening, the two cultures lived and worked
together to make Fort Selkirk a single community. Today, Fort
Selkirk offers an historic reminder that difference does not
necessarily mean separation or conflict ... but diversity.
Ruth M. Gotthardt, 1987. The Selkirk Indian Band: Culture
and Land Use Study.
Heritage Branch, 1985. Fort Selkirk Oral History Project, 1984
- Transcript of Taped Interviews, edited by H. Dobrowolsky.
Heritage Branch, 1986. Fort Selkirk Elders Oral History
Project, 1985 - Transcript of Taped Interviews, edited by H.
Loree Stewart, 1993. Fort Selkirk Building Synopses.