Talking of the Taylor & Drury Store at Fort Selkirk in the 1920s:
... this big part is the store... but this guy Cathro (Taylor &
Drury Manager), he made a Christmas party for everybody in the village
and we had a great time here, everybody danced. This is where I learned
to waltz, the old time waltz, in Selkirk. My wife is a good waltzer
-George Dawson (FSOHP, 1984, p. 269)
The Indians used to come through here sometimes. In the winter they'd
come in from Big Lake, that's Aishihik Lake. They'd come in the spring
with their furs and so forth and maybe there would be ten, fifteen sleigh
loads of women and children and they'd stay hare for a few days and back
they'd go again.... And the town would liven up a bit when they'd come...
-G.I. Cameron (FSOHP 1984, p. 94)
Wolf they got two feathers, crow they got one. They dance like they got
no bones. Dancing stick, 8 feet long.
-Harry Baum, 1993
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.
An 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 (FSEOP, 1985, p. 204)
Fort Selkirk really important place. Everyone came there to trade -
Ross River, Carmacks, coast. Lots of potlatch, them....
I think about the dancing there, Jimmie Johnson and grandpa went there and
took those two out of there. (our grandmothers) Sometime around 1900s.
They sent two guys from here, one from Champagne, one from Canyon Creek -
Fred Stick and Jim Shorty, they went up therefor competition. They come from
long ways, they invite them too. Oh boy, they dress up good, paint up their
face, feathers in their head. Some of their wives came along. One song I
think they sing.
Kind of old stories. Maybe I'm baby, just born that time, I'm born 1908.
-Sam Williams speaking to Mary Jane Johnson, 1993
Who Got Together
Northern Tutchone life in the early days was more than a continual round of
hunting and fishing. Their seasonal cycle also included trade and travel, feasts
and potlatches, and seasonal festivals at certain times of the year. In the
early days, smaller family groups got together in the Fort Selkirk area to
trade and visit.
They also met with other First Nations people - the Han people further
downriver, the Kaska people from the upper Pelly River area, the Southern
Tutchone from Neskata-hin, Aishihik and/or the Donjek River, and Tanana
people from the White River area.
Some people came from even greater distances. On a few memorable occasions,
Fort Good Hope and Fort Norman people travelled over the Mackenzie Mountains
to Fort Selkirk. The Coastal Tlingits or Chilkats travelled what was later
known as the Dalton Trail to trade with Fort Selkirk people. Most of these
get-togethers took place in the spring and summer.
After a trading post was established at Fort Selkirk, this site became a
supply centre for the area. People travelled to Fort Selkirk at certain times,
such as Christmas or the spring, to sell furs, to obtain supplies and visit
one another. When the First Nations people and their dogs arrived in town,
the small settlement became a livelier and more exciting place.
The Selkirk First Nation people celebrated many special occasions at the
Big Jonathan House, the home of one of the Selkirk First Nation's two chiefs.
People gathered here for drumming, dancing, singing, storytelling, stick
gambling and feasting. Elders have many happy memories of the annual Christmas
celebrations. Local traders, such as the manager of the Taylor & Drury store,
often hosted parties. The best party, however, was at the Big Jonathan House.
Everyone prepared food. The dancing began at six o'clock on Christmas Eve and
might continue all night long. Many people met their future husbands or wives
at Fort Selkirk gatherings.
Preparations for a potlatch might begin a year in advance.
This was the memorial ceremony held a year or two after a person's death.
If the deceased was from the Crow clan, people of the Wolf moiety carried
out the ceremonies for the deceased's matrilineal relatives (descended through
the mother and grandmother). The deceased's relatives then held a feast for the
Wolf people and gave them gifts in payment for their services. Invitations might
be sent as long as a year in advance, and the women spent many months tanning the
hides, making clothes, moccasins, etc. After the fur trade began, potlatch gifts
might include blankets, calico cloth and thread, knives, axes, washtubs, kettles,
and even guns.
About the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, Fort Norman people started
visiting Fort Selkirk. They camped on the flat upriver from the Field Force
site and for the next two weeks, the town echoed to the sound of the drumming
that accompanied the stick gambling matches.
After the missionaries arrived, more events such as funerals, weddings and
confirmations centred around the church - first the Schoolhouse, the town's first
church, then from the early 1930s, the Anglican Church. The missionaries discouraged
potlatches and gambling and these customs stopped for many years.
Yukon First Nations people still travel long distances to visit one another
and attend special events. Fort Selkirk is still one of the places where Selkirk
First Nation members get together, and where they also meet with others. The Selkirk
First Nation has occasionally held its General Assembly here. Nearly every year,
elders join the students and staff of Eliza Van Bibber School for a field trip to Fort
Selkirk. In 1992, the Selkirk First Nation hosted the Aboriginal Policing Conference at
Fort Selkirk. This was attended by police and First Nations people from all over the
Yukon. The Fort Selkirk Management Group welcomes all who are prepared to recognize and
respect this home of the Selkirk First Nation.
Helen Dobrowolsky ed., 1985. Fort Selkirk Oral History Project 1984, Transcripts
from Tapes. Government of Yukon, Heritage Branch.
Helen Dobrowolsky ed., 1986. Fort Selkirk Elders Oral History Project 1985,
Transcripts from Tapes. Government of Yukon, Heritage Branch.
Ruth M. Gotthardt, 1987. The Selkirk Indian Band. Culture and Land Use Study.
C. McClellan et al, 1987. Part of the Land, Part of the Water. pp. 212-222, 233-249.