I don’t know how you going to tell people just a story about
Fort Selkirk. Other places too, all together.
—Grace Johnson, 1994.
. . . Their country, as they claim it, extends up the Pelly—the
Indian name of which is Ayan—to the lakes, up the Yukon from this
point to the village of Kit-ah-gon (Minto), and down that
stream to near the mouth of the White and Stewart Rivers, . . .
—Frederick Schwatka, 1894.
The Northern Tutchone people now known as the Selkirk First
Nation have never been a rigidly-organized group of people
occupying a set territory. Historical accounts of the area they
covered differ from period to period, as did descriptions of the
size of the Selkirk First Nation. In the early days, people tended
to travel for much of the year in groups of one or two families.
They joined together with other families during special occasions
such as summer fish camps. People often moved to other areas upon
marriage or to stay with other relatives or clan members. About
1840, several Northern Tutchone people moved to the area around the
McQuesten River and later, many resettled around the Mayo area.
Selkirk people also socialized with the people from Fort Norman,
Northwest Territories. There were intermarriages and some Fort
Norman people settled in with the Northern Tutchone (for example
Danny Joe and Annie Joe McGinty.)
The Northern Tutchone concept of ownership meant land that was
used regularly. Traditional hunting areas might belong to certain
groups, although the people might be living elsewhere for much of
the year. Certain valuable resources such as beaver houses and
mineral licks were considered to be owned, usually by the chief or dän
nozhi. When people owned an area, they were responsible for
anyone on the land, including strangers. If anything happened to
someone on your land, you had to compensate that person’s family
or risk their vengeance. The Northern Tutchone had a strong
tradition of being hospitable to strangers and visitors.
From the 1890 to 1920 period, the Selkirk First Nation occupied
the land between the east flank of the Dawson Range, to the
southwest of Fort Selkirk, and the Yukon River north of Fort
Selkirk. Selkirk First Nation people also lived and travelled up
the Lower Pelly and South Macmillan rivers. Their neighbours
included other Tutchone First Nations people living around Tatchun
Lake, Little Salmon River, Big Salmon River, Braeburn Lake, Hutshi
Lake, Aishihik Lake, White River, the Stewart River, Lower
Macmillan and Tatlmain Lake.
Land use changed with the arrival of Euro-Canadians and their
institutions. From the 19th century, First Nation people trapped
increasingly for fur. Later, with the advent of steamboats on the
Yukon River, people began working at wood camps along the Yukon and
Pelly rivers cutting fuel for the boats and firewood for Dawson.
The ban of fish traps by the Canadian government in the 1930s, the
registration of traplines in 1952, and the construction of new
roads all limited land use. As the Selkirk people became more
involved in the wage economy, they spent less time on the land. New
regulations restricted hunting and fishing. Nonetheless, the people
kept strong ties to traditional fish camps and hunting areas.
Selkirk people see their traditional territory as far more than
an inanimate landscape. Every creek, valley, mountain and lake is
part of the country traversed by their ancestors for countless
centuries. It is a land of memories filled with moose, sheep and
bear habitat; criss-crossed by a network of trails; and marked by
fish camps, trapline cabins, look out points, caches, burial sites,
and other signs of their rich past and enduring connections.
Gotthardt, Ruth. The Selkirk Indian Band: Culture and Land
Use Study. Report prepared for Selkirk First Nation, 1987.
McClellan, C. Part of the Land, Part of the Water.
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987.
Schwatka, Frederick. A Summer in Alaska. St. Louis, Mo.:
J. W. Henry, 1894.