Mrs Edna Helm and her Family
Mrs Helm (at right, in the back) and members of her family
© Parks Canada
Mrs Edna Helm and her family are outstanding, long-term volunteers for the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site (NHS). They bring the perspective of their First Nation heritage and residence on the land. Their stewardship has resulted in a very special relationship with both Parks Canada staff and visitors.
The Chilkoot Trail was a major route to the Klondike gold fields during the stampede of 1897/1899, when over 30,000 people struggled over its steep and rugged pass. The trail’s majestic scenery and fascinating history attract thousands of hikers and other visitors each year. But the continuing presence of those whose ancestors used the route for millennia is a reminder that the Trail is much more that a memento of the Klondike Gold Rush. Inland and coastal peoples used the route to trade with one another, and the land surrounding it offered animals and plants for sustenance. About half the length of the 53 kilometre Chilkoot Trail is within the traditional First Nations territory of Mrs Helm’s ancestors, the Carcross Tagish (Yukon) and the Taku River Tlingit (BC).
For many years, Elder Mrs Helm and her husband, children and grandchildren have generously given their time to the protection of the Chilkoot Trail and the surrounding land. Mrs Helm was born in the Chilkoot valley. She and her family live in a cabin beside Bennett Lake where they fish, trap, hunt, gather berries, tend their garden, and prepare traditional food. Parks Canada staff are based several kilometres away and cannot always monitor visitor activity throughout the area. Mrs Helm and her family provide valuable information to staff about visitors at risk or potential wildlife issues.
When Mrs Helm meets visitors on the trail or at her cabin, she readily shares her knowledge of the land, such as traditional food gathering and preparation – as well as passing on safety and stewardship information. She tells stories of her ancestors or tales about the trap line. Visitors can watch or even help, as she sews and beads moccasins.
Parks Canada staff regularly consult First Nations Elders, leaders and other citizens so they can better manage the historic site. Mrs Helm’s knowledge, background and continuing presence on the trail give her a key role in planning and decision-making.
Mrs Helm and her family are among the 100 volunteers recognized by Parks Canada, as part of its centennial, for their exceptional contribution.