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Sustainability Aspects of the Yukon First Nations

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Yukon first nations were associated with several activities that build their culture and way of living. This formed the basis of their economic activities that developed up to date. The people who are presently referred to as Yukon First Nations are believed to have migrated into Alaska from Siberia around more than a Millenia ago (Nadasdy, 2015). The land bridge known as Beringia was the link which they used to migrate into Alaska and other parts of northerly North America. The present-day Yukon First Nation is consisted of 14 sub-nations and 8 language groups. Presently, their traditional territories make up nearly all of the land in Yukon and 11 of the 14 First Nations have signed treaties that established laws and decisions which govern their land and the people (Nadasdy, 2015).

This paper will show a comparative analysis of their past and present lifestyles and a history of their past sustainability activities. It will then compare those activities with their present lifestyles in an attempt to show how much they have evolved, changed and modelled their lifestyles with changing times.

History of Yukon First Nations Economic and Sustainability activities

The Yukon First Nations presently in Canada are Aboriginal. They first arrived in these territories around 11,000 BCE and since then, have had an eventful existence (Wein & Freeman, 2016). Their lifestyle revolved around hunting and gathering which meant they moved around according to seasons as they sought for food and shelter during the harsh winter seasons. Their existence was often times threatened with extinction due to vagaries of nature but they always survived and reproduced to replenish their population numbers (Wein & Freeman, 2016). Here are some of their sustainability activities that they have managed to maintain from the first time they relocated to Canada up-to present.  


            When they first arrived in the region 11,000 years ago, many of the tribes that make up todays Yukon First Nations were hunters who moved from place to place in medium groups in search of hunting opportunities (Horne, 2015). They hunted animals like wild sheep, bison, feral pig, buffalo, capybara, the bear and others. The very earliest of the inhabitants encountered huge animals like the mammoths, giant bears and giant beavers which were wiped out during the last ice age. They had to devise ways of either evading been killed by these animals or killing them. Their weapons of choice were spears, bows and arrows and hunting knives.  They were very skilled in tracking and trailing their prey and very organized in snaring and trapping (Schuster, Wein, & Dickson, 2016). Apart from providing meat for the tribes, these animals also provided hides and skins which were used to make clothing, bags, beddings and other uses. To ensure that their kill would last for a long time, they used to cut the meat into thin strips, dry it on the sun and then cure it with smoke. This guaranteed that the meat would last even months as the males went back to hunt for replenishments (Wein & Freeman, 2016).

            Today, the indigenous tribes still hunt mostly for pleasure but also for sustenance. They have to obtain hunting permits from the Yukon First nation’s authorities and the hunting territory and scope is determined by the permit (Wein & Freeman, 2016). The rest of the former hunting communities have turned into other economic activities like farming and formal employment.


            Fishing is another sustenance activity that has been partaken from the earliest days when the Yukon tribes migrated into the territory up-to present. They hunted different fishes like the Alaska white fish, Ameiurus, Gizzard shad, Alligator gar and seal (Jensen, 2017). Their weapons for this activity included spears, hooks, entrapping and arrows. They would then consume the fish after boiling them using heated stones and bark containers as was the case of meat and other foodstuffs. the rest would also be smoked and stored for future consumption (Wein & Freeman, 2016).

            With the arrival of Europeans, the Yukon tribes adopted their more efficient methods of fishing like use of nets and fish wheel. Today, fishing is only allowed only for those who obtain a permit which just like hunting, is valid in particular territories (Wein & Freeman, 2016). A substantial number of Yukon tribes still partake on fishing as an economical activity having adopted modern fishing methods.


            The native Yukon tribes practiced agriculture in the form of perennial cultivation where a wide variety of plants and tubers were farmed. The coastal tribes used about 250 species of plants for food, tea, fuel, canoes, fuel, construction and canoes (Schuster, Wein, & Dickson, 2016). Their methods were very simple, consisting of tending to ‘gardens in the water’ for salmon where they would collect salmon eggs from a part of a river/stream where they were densely growing and transport them inside water- bark containers into another part of the river were there weren’t any to create a new colony (Wein & Freeman, 2016). They also cultivated hog peanuts and other crops and tubers. They always ensured that they harvested their yield from the plants in such a way that they would leave the plant intact so that it could bear more produce the next season (Jensen, 2017). Their strict practicing of sustenance farming was informed from their believe in not taking away life unnecessarily, even that of plants.   These crops provided alternative source of diet from meat and fish.

            Today, modern farming methods have been adopted in various parts of the territory and the communities, in conjunction with outsiders are doing farming as an economic activity (Nadasdy, 2015).


            The early Yukon tribes also partook in gathering to supplement their hunting diet. They gathered wild rice, wild fruits, berries, roots, tubers and other edible plants. They would then bring them in their dwelling areas and consume them as a supplement to the game meat which was aplenty especially during the dry, summer season (Horne, 2015). Most of the items gathered were consumed raw after collecting although some tubers were dried and preserved for future consumption. The early Yukon tribes who discovered cooking used to boil the food by dropping heated stones into water-filled bark containers (Jensen, 2017). Cooking was mainly the preserve of the women as the men were tasked with the gathering, hunting and protecting the families from hostile tribes.


            Trapping is an activity that has been practiced by the Yukon tribes for as long as they have existed in northern America (Schuster, Wein, & Dickson, 2016). they also dependent on the trapped animals for meat, fur for clothing, bedding and shelter. They used primitive trapping methods like deadfalls and sinew snares to entrap and capture the furbearing animals. Before the arrival of the Europeans, they traded the fur between themselves in exchange of other commodities (Schuster, Wein, & Dickson, 2016).

            With the arrival of Europeans, the Yukon tribes adopted more effective methods of trapping like the steel traps (Schuster, Wein, & Dickson, 2016). The Europeans initially used trappings primarily for controlling depredations o their livestock and gardens but soon started capturing the furbearers for their fur for trading purposes. Fur trading is in-fact termed as one of the major contributing elements in northern America colonization by the Europeans (Horne, 2015).

            Today, the Yukon tribes still practice trapping but on a small scale and the activities are controlled by legislation meant to control numbers and prevent inhumane trapping methods.


            The above activities that have been practiced by the Yukon First nations for thousands of years. This shows that the tribes of the Yukon First Nations have endured a history of natural calamities, whether vagaries, European invasion, colonization and subsequent influences. The Canadian government even attempted to dissimilate Yukon Children from their culture and heritage by taking them to religious schools for 10 years without visiting their families.

            But even with all these setbacks, the Yukon tribes have been able to maintain and preserve their culture over a long period. Their main cultural principle has been to never kill an animal or uproot a plant unless it is very necessary and they have endeavored to preserve their plants and animals for sustenance purposes. That’s why these activities of hunting, gathering, fishing, agriculture and trapping have been able to stay as part of the Yukon first Nation’s economic activities.

            The advent of modern methods of economic sustenance and technological advances means that some of these activities like trapping may die eventually but with thousands of years of sustainability, the Yukon tribes may just find a way to preserve these practices for a couple more thousands of years.


Horne, M. C. (2015). Yukon’s Self Governing First Nations. Canadian Parliamentary Review, 33(2), 2.

Jensen, M. (2017). The Elders’ Documentation Project: A Yukon First Nations Oral History Project. Northern Review, 4(5), 14.

Nadasdy, P. (2015). Boundaries among kin: Sovereignty, the modern treaty process, and the rise of ethno-territorial nationalism among Yukon First Nations. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 499-532.

Schuster, R. C., Wein, E., & Dickson, C. (2016). Importance of traditional foods for the food security of two First Nations communities in the Yukon, Canada. International journal of circumpolar health, 70(3), 286-300.

Wein, E. E., & Freeman, M. M. (2016). Frequency of traditional food use by three Yukon First Nations living in four communities. Arctic, 17(4), 161-171.

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