Visiting an exhibition on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) at Dawson’s Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, reinforced Cliff’s existing belief that she had a “moral obligation” to make changes. It was call to action 79, she says, that gave her permission to do so: It calls upon the government to amend the Historic Sites and Monuments Act to include First Nations, Inuit and Métis representation.
Her team began consulting with elders, hosting community workshops and combing through historical documents, including letters between Anglican Bishop William Bompas and Inspector Constantine of the North–West Mounted Police, which discussed the “problem” of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
The result is Parks Canada’s new “Red Serge, Red Tape” interpretive program, which takes a critical look at the impacts of colonial government on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, who were displaced five kilometres downstream by the influx of newcomers. But while the tour runs daily during the summer months, it’s not the first to sell out.
“It’s a tough sell,” concedes Cliff. “People are on vacation. They’re not really looking to get hit over the head with a hammer about reconciliation.”
Even for visitors who are ready to engage, it’s easy to get lost in a glamorized version of gold–rush history that’s pervasive throughout the territory. In my hotel in Whitehorse, a statue of a gold miner dominates the lobby, even though I’m more than 500 kilometres from where the action took place. And in the airport’s departure lounge, historic photos of riverboats, miners, fur traders and RCMP line the walls. In them, nearly every face is white.
All this, for a period that only lasted four years. By 1899, the gold rush was over. Considering that the Yukon’s history stretches back to the last ice age (carbon dating of the Bluefish Caves indicates that human habitation of North America may have started here 24,000 years ago), it feels incredibly limiting. But, as I learn, sometimes change starts with the glimmer of something small – not with a stampede.