Experience Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Culture
Long before the discovery of gold put the Klondike region on the map, this area was home to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Tr’ochëk, a traditional fish camp at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, was an important part of their seasonal rounds: they would stop here to fish for salmon, hunt moose in the valley, collect plants for food and medicine, and meet with other First Nations people. The huge influx of newcomers in 1897-98 displaced the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in: they moved down river to what became known as Moosehide Village.
Today, in spite of this upheaval, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation has settled their land claims with the federal government of Canada and are a thriving self-governing nation. No visit to Dawson City is complete without hearing their story!
Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre
A great place to start is the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, located on Front Street across from the Visitor Information Centre. Built in 1998, the architecture of the Cultural Centre is strikingly different from the frontier-style of the rest of the town. Elements of the building recall the seasons of the North: in summer, salmon drying on racks along the riverbank, and in winter, the warmth and safety of the fire in a circular pole and hide shelter. Take a guided tour of the Hammerstone Gallery, where you’ll learn about the rich history of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Visit the rotating art exhibit in the Gathering Room, and be sure to watch the Welcome Film in the theatre. Dänojà Zho also offers a variety of programs in the summer months sharing First Nations crafts and culture, and a gift shop full of beautiful beadwork.
There’s no better way to learn about life on the land than with friendly, knowledgeable First Nation guide Tommy Tayler, owner and operator of Fishwheel Charters. In summer, you’ll head out on the Yukon River in his boat, passing by Moosehide Village and an old trading post, Fort Reliance, before stopping for tea and bannock on Dog Island, the site of a traditional Hän fish camp. Here, you’ll learn all about the fishwheel, an important piece of technology used by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in for centuries. If you’re visiting in winter, Fishwheel Charters also offers snowmobile excursions.
Considered to be the heart of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in territory, Moosehide Village has been used as a camp many times over thousands of years. The most recent occupation was brought about by the gold rush. When settlers displaced the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in from their fish camp at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, visionary leader Chief Isaac successfully negotiated for 160 acres downstream from the chaos. The village contained residential cabins, an Anglican church and mission house, and later, a day school, and was a vibrant community until a lack of funding for the school caused families to begin moving back to Dawson City in the 1950’s.
Today, Moosehide is maintained by caretakers for youth camps and community based activities. Every two years, the village hosts the Moosehide Gathering over three days in July to celebrate Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in culture with feasting, music, songs, dancing and knowledge sharing. The gathering is open to everyone, and is a truly special event not to be missed!
If your trip doesn’t line up with Moosehide Gathering, it’s still possible to visit via the hiking trails that will take you across the Moosehide Slide and down into the village. It’s best to plan ahead, as visitors must submit a permit application, which can be done via email–download the application here. Please remember that the cabins are private. As there are no services there, be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks. Moosehide is a drug and alcohol free place.