Regions: Whitehorse Region Communities: Whitehorse

Explore the Book

Kwanlin Dün’s personal history is celebrated through the seasons, from a “long-time ago spring” to the “late summer of today.” Through first-hand stories, photography, and true-life recollections, see how the Yukon has evolved and changed through the eyes of Kwanlin Dün First Nation Citizens as they work to define their vision for the future. 

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Book cover Kwanlin Dün – Our Story in Our Words





Shining waters we call home

“For First Nations people, living by the water is very spiritual because it gives us a lot.” – Klighee - Sait u - Emma Joanne Shorty, Elder 

Over thousands of years, First Nations people have kept a strong connection to the land. The power of the river forever runs deep. Moving nomadically, their main source of living was by trapping, fishing, hunting, and gathering. 

The name Kwanlin Dün itself actually refers to a section of the Yukon River from Miles Canyon to the Whitehorse Rapids in which First Nation’s ancestors called Kwanlin in Southern Tutchone. It means "running water through canyon," while Dän or Dün means ″people.″

In chapter Nùchü Kwàch’e, meaning “it is fall time,” transport yourself back to the birth of a wilderness city with old photographs and diary extracts from families who lived by the river. The area known as Miles Canyon was first a First Nation’s fish camp. Read memories from those who first encountered the arrival of the cloud people and tried to help their boats across the rapids, where many inexperienced paddlers fought the whirlpools and lost their lives. 

“They waved away...sometimes they get into a whirlpool and they all disappear” – Violet Storer

Today, you can cross a sturdy bridge and look down upon the roaring rapids.   Explore the area and take a short hike along the shores, feel the peace of the river and discover why this land is Kwanlin Dün’s chosen home. 

Miles Canyon
Government of Yukon

The long road to prosperity

When the gold rush masses descended onto their land, First Nations people worked alongside the prospectors. But for many, their way of life changed dramatically with the building of the Alaska Highway in the 1940s. The roads brought an end to the steamboat era and the wood camps along the Yukon River for which many were employed. 

Sweeny Scurvy, a Kwanlin Dün poet, describes the arrival of the highway workers in Disturbing the Peace, one of his many featured works. 

“Strange machines are tearing down our trees…”  – Sweeny Scurvy 

Personal stories and photos from many Elders shine a light on the decades of segregation and discrimination. The battle to keep their land, their rights and traditional way of life alive was a long process, but progress began to be made in the 1970s with First Nations coming together to initiate change.  Read all about the formation of The Council of Yukon Indians, Yukon Native Brotherhood and the Yukon Indian’s Women Association, to name a few, who made their voices heard. 

When planning your visit, there are plenty of ways to learn about Yukon First Nations history.  Visit one of many cultural centres and museums in Yukon communities or connect one-on-one with First Nations artists. Their creations can help translate 1000 words...


Reclaiming their land and defining their future

These are their stories, these are their pictures. A ten-year community effort, the publication of this book coincides with the 15th anniversary of First Nations land claims and self-government agreements that came into effect in 2005. 

“We were finally accepted as real, real owners of the land. You think back on that, that was like a turning page for us…” –  Shaakooni - Mike Smith, Chief of KDFN 2003-2011 

In chapter five, Adäka (meaning ‘light dawning over the mountains’), follow the words of the Chief and Citizens of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation as they guide us on the final road that led to this breakthrough moment in Yukon history. 

“We are marking a new beginning for our people in economic prosperity, cultural strength and our rights under the law which will be accepted and respected by other governments” – Shaakooni - Chief Mike Smith 

The final chapter, Shakaat, completes the seasons up to recent years, as the Kwanlin Dün work to build upon their legacies for future generations and empower the youth of today. A key celebration in the Yukon calendar is the Adäka Cultural Festival, a week-long event over the summer solstice that helps preserve and revitalize First Nations arts and culture. There’s no better way to celebrate the Yukon creative spirit than under the midnight sun. 


Discussion Questions

In recognition of the immense hard work and perseverance in creating this book, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, part of the British Columbia and Yukon 2021 Book Prizes. Upon reading, take time to reflect and understand all of the unique voices that make up this First Nation’s story. 

  • What was the biggest lesson you learned? 
  • What local story stayed with you? 
  • What will you take away from this book to inspire others?