The Lasting Spell of the Yukon

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park celebrates silver anniversary

Chilkat Dancers perform the mosquito dance for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park 25th anniversary June 30. About 100 people attended the ceremony. Photo by Jennifer Collins

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where...
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.
—Robert Service, “The Spell of the Yukon”

Twenty-five years ago, the National Park Service fell under the spell of the Yukon and established a tribute to the thousands who rushed to find gold in its nameless mountains and copious rivers.
Skagway celebrated the silver anniversary June 30 with a ceremony to commemorate the park dedicated to the 1897-98 gold rush.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was established on June 30, 1976 and a year later, Skagway commemorated the opening with festivities that blocked off Broadway.
“It’s so remarkable that something that attracted people for only 18 months to two years still has the power to reach out and grab people’s attention,” said Ken East, Parks Canada’s Yukon field superintendent, who spoke at the ceremony.
East said he would be hiking that weekend in the Chilkoot Trail, also part of the park. This would be his second hike on the trail that draws between 3,000 and 4,000 people annually.
Gold rush family descendent, Barbara Dedman Kalen told stories of her first hike on the Chilkoot, before the Park Service “smoothed it out.”
Kalen said she has hiked parts of the trail since its restoration, and it still holds the “spirit” of the gold rush although it’s not as rugged.
“It’s still 35 miles ... but you don’t have to get your feet wet wading in the rivers,” she said.
As for the park, she said conflicts arose but the park’s staff has helped quell them.
“They’re good people that the park has sent us,” she said.
Although several presenters spoke of “bumps in the road,” they agreed relations have been constructive.

Bruce Noble, park superintendent

“Through it all, I believe there has been an enduring commitment to a relationship between the city and the park,” said Park Superintendent Bruce Noble.
“Like all bumps in the road that occur every spring, we go out and we fill them in and we go on driving on that road,” related Stan Selmer, Skagway City Councilman and former mayor.
Selmer reminisced that before the city was renovated by the Park Service, several buildings were run down and boarded up.
In the past 25 years, the Park Service has restored 15 buildings to their 1898 appearance to create the Skagway Historic District. The Chilkoot Trail and White Pass also are part of the park.
“I think the city and the park can work that ... 25 years from now, when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary, the boards are off the windows all year round,” Selmer said.
Other speakers included Klondike Gold Rush Superintendent Bruce Noble, Seattle Unit Klondike Park Superintendent Marc Blackburn, President of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad Fred McCorriston, National Park Service Alaska Regional Director Robert L. Arnberger, Alaskan historian Frank Norris and former Alaskan State Legislator Mike Miller of Juneau.
Carlin “Buckwheat” Donahue performed Robert Service’s “Spell of the Yukon,” the Skagway Presbyterian Church Choir sang the American and Canadian national anthems, the cast of the Days of ’98 show sang the Alaska state song, and the Chilkat Dancers performed traditional tribal dances.
The program was similar to the park’s dedication ceremony in 1977.
Following the ceremony, Park Service guides led tours of Skagway and hosted a reception in the Mascot Saloon.

Keeping the language alive

Lynn Canal clans gather in Skagway

(Left) Ray Dennis raises a Tlingit staff in a dance by Klukwan dancers at the Skaqua Tribal Council gathering June 30. (Right) A wheelchair doesn’t deter a Tlingit elders from rejoicing at the ceremony at the Skagway Recreation Center. Photos by Jennifer Collins

Alaskans celebrate at Skaqua Tribal Council-sponsored gathering

A weathered elderly woman drapes a blanket over a young man’s shoulders — such a simple gesture.
But for Lance Twitchell, it was powerful enough to bring tears.
“This blanket is to show that he’s our grandson and we are very proud he’s our grandson,” Nora Dauenhauer said at the Council’s “Lynn Canal Unity Celebration” June 30 at the Skagway Recreation Center.
Dauenhauer and her clan, Lukaax.Adi or sockeye traveled from Juneau to Skagway for the celebration — the first “well-publicized” gathering for all of Lynn Canal clans.
Skagway’s Tribal Council, of which Twitchell, 26, is the president, designed the event to bring together Natives from the upper Lynn Canal.
The purpose of the gathering was to “make a statement that there is a Native community here and ... invite the non-Native community in and show them how we do things,” Twitchell said.
Upper Lynn Canal tribal governments have not worked together to form alliances, but this and subsequent gatherings are designed to establish the political and relational bonds, he said.
Twitchell said the disorganization is due to a small population of Native people in Skagway. About 45 Skagwayans are Alaska Natives and 30 are members of the Skaqua Tribal government, he said.
Several elders from the two clans of the Tlingit nation, Ravens and Eagles, told traditional stories and spoke in Tlingit at the ceremony, and two groups performed dances.
Twitchell said Lynn Canal Natives can benefit from sharing the knowledge of the Tlingit language and prevent it from extinction.
“We’re trying to get people involved because ... linguists say that we probably have 20 years before Tlingit is no longer spoken,” Twitchell said.
In addition to study of the language, the tribal council was presented a map with traditonal Tlingit names for locations in the Skagway area.
The map, the first of its kind of Lynn Canal, was created through years of research by Nora Dauenhauer, Andy Hope,Tom Thorton and others, Twitchell said.

Ben Diedricksen of the Haines Gei Sun Dancers sways to the beat of the skin drums and voices.

Originally, Tlingits didn’t have a written language. The phonetic spelling, using the English alphabet was created by missionaries and traders who tried to translate English into Tlingit, he said.
The map of Tlingit place names along Lynn Canal also proves there were historic subsistence uses in the area.
In addition to cultural knowledge, upper Lynn Canal clans can establish economic independence from the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida People in Juneau if they remain aligned, and develop housing assistance and scholarship programs, Twitchell said.
Additionally, Twitchell said he hopes to establish Tlingit weaving and language classes. The Tlingit language nearly died out as Natives stopped speaking it in the twentieth century because many thought it would get them nowhere in a “white man’s world,” Twitchell said.
Klukwan Eagle Ed Warren spoke a few words in Tlingit and then reminisced in English.
“My uncles were telling me when they spoke Tlingit, they got their mouths washed out with soap,” he said.
As a result, the Tlingit language died out. Twitchell has studied Tlingit with his grandfather and with Dauenhauer and her husband in Juneau for five or six years, he said.
About 150 people, Native and non-Native attended the event.
“I want to say to those from the German tribe, to the French tribe, to the Russian Tribe, we’re glad you’re here,” Warren said.
Twitchell echoed Warren and said he wants both the Native and non-Native community to be involved in annual Lynn Canal Tribal gatherings.
“We’re trying to keep in mind that we want something that will last,” Twitchell said.
Haines Raven, Twitchell’s uncle Ray Dennis agreed the groups remain focused on similar goals.
“We must always remember we are one people,” Dennis said. “As the trees are up on the hills — there should be no logical way how those trees should be up there, but the roots grow together. If we stay rooted together, we stand.”