There is no clear definition of traditional knowledge; it means many things to many people.Yukon First Nation traditions, like many indigenous cultures,are based strongly on a natural spirituality, one in which all things are connected and where the mutual respect between the land, animals and the natural world must at all times be adhered to. To upset this balance will mean hard times, both in their environment and in their personal lives and spiritual lives.
Relationship of the People with the Land, Animals and Natural World
The First Nation people of the Kluane region believe their relationship with the natural surroundings is one of the strongest connections that not only connects them to the earth and to their spiritual world, but also provides balance and harmony between these intertwining elements. To them, ensuring a good relationship and balance to the earth will mean that life will perpetuate and good times will be ensured.
The Southern Tutchone people in the Kluane region made use of every animal that was harvested, making sure no part was wasted. To them all parts of an animal had a purpose and each part was made excellent use of. From the parts of an animal that were not eaten other purposes were found and utilized. The antlers of big game like moose, sheep and caribou tools were made into tools like spoons, knives, needles and skin scrappers and other household items. From the tanned hides and furs of animals came clothing and shelter. Raw hides were used for snowshoes, hunting bags and fishing nets. Containers used for storage were made from roots found in the earth, such as the spruce root and birch bark. Cooking vessels and other food and water storage containers were made from the parts of an animal, such as the intestine or bladder.
The ancestors of the Lu’an Mun and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people made good use of the natural world for their everyday tools. From the mountainsides and riverbeds, people found several uses for various types of rock, minerals and copper. Because of the hard and sharp edges that can be fashioned with obsidian, it was used for arrow tips and blades. In a climate where a hearth fire can mean life or death, flint stone was a desirable tool to have because of its ability to spark a fire. In parts of the Kluane region the minerals in found in some rock faces have been used for more decorative purposes when mixed with other properties like grease to make paint and used to decorate clothing, basketry, bodies and anything else that needed a little colour.
The Southern Tutchone people lived in an area of great strategic value because of its placement on the trade routes. Because of this the people of the region acted as middlemen for many nations in several directions. One of the biggest trade goods was the copper from Copper Center in Alaska. This precious commodity made its way into the Yukon through the White River and Kluane regions and found its way into most parts of the Yukon. Several families throughout the Yukon who are descendants of the sons of a prominent Chief from Copper Center who strategically sent them to secure trade and good relations.
How was it used in the daily life of the Southern Tutchone people?
The use of traditional technology was integral to the survival of the Southern Tutchone people. Without the use of the tools and equipment that they expertly crafted from the animals, stone, tree, and earth, survival in such a harsh climate would have been impossible.
Before there were cars and cell phones...
A typical sheep hunt could have played out in the following manner and the use of traditional tools and ingenuity would have been vital to the success of the hunt.
Quietly, one of the hunters signals to the others and they all move into position. The Dall sheep begin to get restless as they feel an unwelcome presence creep closer. Wasting no time the hunter motions to the others and they spring from their hiding places. Expertly they chase and guide the sheep along the ridge further down the mountain towards the brush and trees. Instinctively the sheep run towards their trails, the same ones that have been used for years. Along the trails several snares expertly crafted from rawhide and willow have been set. Unwittingly, the sheep head straight into the snares and several are caught as they run past one another to get to safety. Some of the hunters lay in wait and when the sheep become ensnared they spring to action and finish the job with their spears and arrows.
This has been a successful hunt and the hunters set about the task of butchering the meat. Using expertly crafted stone blades the hunters are able to prepare the meat for smoking and drying. They will keep much of the dried meat in high caches that they’ve built with the logs harvested with their stone axes. When they arrive back at camp the families of the hunters celebrate their success and everyone joins in on the cutting, smoking and drying of meat. The hides are scraped and cleaned and will be used by the women to make many things such as winter pants and jackets. The horns will be kept and on long winter days hours will be spent carving the bone to make spoons and sewing tools.
When all the work has been completed there is not much left of the sheep that only a few days ago walked along the mountain ridge, but to the people the spirit of the Dall lives with them and they give thanks to the sheep for providing the meat they will use to feed their families, the garments and bags made from the hides and the tools and utensils provided by the horns and bones."
Before the region’s introduction to outside influences such as missionaries, Europeans, the trading posts and the Alaska Highway, the Southern Tutchone people lived a nomadic lifestyle. Natural factors such as the harshness of the climate, the diverse landscape and the unreliability of a continual food supply meant that people had to travel year round to capture the best of what nature offered in specific areas. Southern Tutchone people traveled in family groups breaking off into smaller groups in the winter and the spring. Families had winter grounds and summer grounds where they hunted, fished, trapped and harvested fruits, plants and other vegetation from the earth.
In the winter months families dispersed to hunt, trap and fish. They traveled by foot using snowshoes or by dog sled. Because this lifestyle of continuous mobility meant that permanent settlements and the accumulation of goods were impractical people had to travel as light as possible and thus developed a system of trails where high caches and cold ground storages were built along routes. People could store food and other items in them that could be used at a later date when they were passing through again.
When the lakes, rivers and creeks melted in the spring people began to move to their summer grounds. They traveled mainly by foot, but would also use boats, similar to a canoe and made of rawhide, and rafts to cross bodies of water.
Although the Kluane people traveled mainly in small family groups they did meet up with other family groups to travel together to special events, to visit, to trade, to make war or to secure relations through marriages and alliances.
The availability of food supplies, the harshness of the climate and the rugged landscape meant that the Southern Tutchone people had to follow the seasons and follow the game for subsistence. During the summer months families gathered to harvest spawning fish in the rivers, creeks and lakes. They harvested roots and berries and hunted small animals such as ground squirrels, rabbits and migratory fowl. They spent much of their time preserving the food in preparation for the winter months. In the fall big game was harvested like the migrating caribou herds, moose and sheep. Much of the meat and fat was smoked, dried and saved. During the winter months they trapped, hunted moose and ice fished and relied on stores they’d prepared in summer and fall.
Due to their nomadic lifestyle, the Kluane people had homes that were temporary, easily built or could be broken down and carried. Along trails and hunting routes they established brush camps that could be used repeatedly with minimal repair and construction. Usually a brush camp was set against a large tree with the surrounding wall supports being poles. It could be filled in with spruce boughs, moss, willows or hides. In this way people were free to move from camp to camp with a minimal amount of equipment to carry.