Champagne and Aishihik First Nations elder. © Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller
Southern Tutchone Culture
Showing youth how to identify animal tracks. © Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller
Since time immemorial, the Southern Tutchone people, which include Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Kluane First Nation, have lived throughout the area that is now Kluane National Park and Reserve. Over thousands of years dän (the people) have developed effective methods for living in this land of extremes. Elders recall a rich history which details events and places spanning many generations.
They once lived a nomadic lifestyle, travelling great distances, in order to take advantage of seasonal abundances of wildlife and plants throughout their traditional territory. This lifestyle required developing a superior skill set of hunting and travelling techniques in an area of harsh climatic and geographic variations.
Traditional Knowledge and the Southern Tutchone Language
Kluane First Nation elder © Parks Canada / Fritz Mueller
The accuracy and depth of the Southern Tutchone language was key to the survival of the dän. Formal teachings as well as traditional stories told by Elders were and continue to be passed on orally. Place names and the stories associated with them were a source of critical knowledge; they identified where resources could be found, referred to past events, and described the terrain in a way that a traveller would have knowledge of a place without having been there before.
The Southern Tutchone name for Kluane Lake is “Łù’àn Män” meaning "big fish lake". The coastal Tlingits, who were trading partners, called the area “ùxh-àni” meaning "whitefish country". The name 'Kluane' (pronounced ‘Kloo-wah-nee’) was derived from these two names by early settlers.
Teaching youth to identify plants © Parks Canada
In 1943, the Kluane Game Sanctuary was established and First Nations were denied access to hunting, fishing and trapping in a significant portion of their traditional territory. This separation caused their special bond with those lands to break resulting in a great cultural and personal loss that has now affected five generations. Today, with the implementation of their land claim and the establishment of Kluane National Park and Reserve, they have reasserted their right to carry out traditional activities in the park and the surrounding Kluane Game Sanctuary lands.
Today, the Southern Tutchone people continue to maintain a rich culture based on strong ties with the natural world. Renewing their relationship with their traditional territory within the park, and providing direction in the management of the natural resources are high priorities for both Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Kluane First Nation. This cultural reintegration will also help ensure that the First Nations’ traditional knowledge of this region is recognized and carried forth into the future.
The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Final Agreement and the Kluane First Nation Final Agreement ushered in a new era in the management of Kluane National Park and Reserve. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Final Agreement established the creation of the Kluane National Park Management Board and the two final agreements identify specific rights and responsibilities of the two First Nations, the Board and Parks Canada in the management of the park – a cooperative management regime based on shared responsibility.