Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mooshide Gathering

It's a long drive to Dawson. But with convivial conversations amongst witty friends punctuated by wildlife sightings along the way - a black bear sow and her cub, a grizzly bear, eagles, a fox with prey and two without, and grouse aplenty hopping into the bushes as we approached - there was plenty to keep us amused.

Moosehide dock below St. B
arnabas Anglican Church

We were going to attend the bi-annual Moosehide Gathering. Since 1993 the Tr'ondek Hwech'in (a Yukon First Nation whose homeland is the Dawson area) have organized and hosted this huge public event to celebrate their return as full and active players in Yukon society. Although never absent their tough fight against Canadian colonialism kept them busy from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s. The settlement of their treaty with Canada was celebrated with a potlatch during the Moosehide Gathering in 1998. This year's Gathering is honouring those Elders, now passed on, who worked so hard to preserve and carry forward their traditions.

Isaac stays cool on the waterfront

Ronald, Art and ... stay cool at Moosehide

It is cool in the brief early morning, warm during the day, getting darn hot by mid afternoon and sunny all the time, though grumpy locals complain of a damp and rainy summer so far. Judging by all the vegetables available in the Saturday morning riverside Farmer's Market however it hasn't impaired the happiness of the brocolli, lettuce and cabbages.

Finnish student volunteer at Moosehide

Getting to Moosehide means a short trip down river from Dawson. There is almost always a wait. I stood in the boat line-up for an hour, never far from the front, but the Tr'ondek Hwech'in always honour Elders and they get priority, after a life time of work you get to take the short cut. I'm getting close to being an Elder I suppose but take photos, meet more friends and enjoy the companionship of the line. Besides, it's always a pleasure to spend time on the river bank.

Victor watches Sabastian head back to town

Madeline, Tr'ondek Hwech'in dancer

At Moosehide, the sunny southern slopes are crowded by a relaxed crowd. I spend a long afternoon visiting yet more friends, and enjoying the performers. The Han singers and drummers open the Gathering program. The Yu'pik Miracle drummers and singers, regular Alaskan visitors from the mouth of the Yukon River get the audience to their feet and Carcross's Art Johns, with his gravelly soulful voice, sings country western tunes of loneliness and longing. And Vuntut Gwitchin's Boyd Benjamin, once of the Fiddlehead group of youthful fiddlers and now an air charter pilot, is here to play northern jigs and reels. Eventually the hot sun cooks my brain and I return to my shady tent to read Robert Stead's prairie epic, Grain.

Dakhk'a Khwa'an Inland Tlingit Dancers

Kylie getting ready to make bannock

Watching the river flow, waiting for dad to get the boat ready

I volunteer on Saturday afternoon, driving an 18 foot rattling green tin river boat with a 50 hp outboard, back and forth between the beach at Dawson and Moosehide dock. There is a noticeable tide of people. In mid-afternoon there is always a long line-up on the beach as people head to Moosehide for the free dinner - one night its bbq salmon, the next its moosestew. We stockpile the life jackets on the Dawson dock and hustle people into the boats - mine, one of the mid-sized boats, takes seven passengers. Then turn downstream, look to see where the car ferry is, and throttle up to full speed, hit the ferry wake at an angle to reduce the bumps, skim along under the high cliffs of the Midnight Dome and turn into the line of boats waiting to drop off passengers. Keep the life jackets in the boat, pick up one or two people heading back into town, cross the river and run back upstream past the riverboat graveyard, the folks relaxing on the campground beach, check to see where the car ferry is and turn into the Dawson dock to pickup another load.

A couple of hours later this tide ebbs and reverses. There are no life jackets at Moosehide, a boat runs back to Dawson empty and returns piled high with bright yellow, red and blue life jackets of all sizes. Although many people are waiting, at 8:30 after its dinner cruise, the Klondike Spirit arrives to pick up almost a hundred passengers for the slow trip back to town. The rest of us small boats keep running, almost midnight before the last passengers are sleepily climbing the town dike and slowly walking home to bed.

Sacred fire

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