The dances are coming. On January 31, Skookum Jim’s annual Folklore Show will take place at the Yukon Arts Centre. The vibrant show will feature many First Nation dances and songs. Doris McLean, of Carcross/Tagish First Nation, is now the vice president of the friendship centre, but she was the program coordinator for 30 years. She enjoys bringing the culture of First Nations to the people of Whitehorse.
The history of Skookum Jim goes back to the gold rush. Back then he went by the name of Keish. He got his nickname from to his massive strength (‘Skookum’, meaning strong). A member of the Tagish First Nations, he is often accredited for being one of the people to discover gold in the Yukon. Skookum died in 1916, but First Nations people want his legacy to live on.
In 1962, the Skookum Jim Friendship Center was built in Whitehorse, as a place for all First Nations people. In 1972, McLean became the program coordinator. “I wanted aboriginal arts, crafts and culture to be shown, that’s part of the reason why the folklore show was created,” she says.
When McLean was busy organizing the show, she also spearheaded the creation of the first totem pole erected in Whitehorse. “I walked in on artist Ted Harrison while he was teaching a carving class. I saw how talented the group was, and thought they would be able to make some very nice designs,” McLean says.
The totem pole was put up at Shipyards Park and is still there today. It is a true reflection of Skookum Jim, as the top of the totem pole has a raven and eagle carving to represent his two clans. “The totem pole is great way to show pride and recognition. I am really glad that the Skookum Jim Centre was able to be a part of that,” she says.
McLean herself has also been part of the dances. She has performed in the Northwest Territories at the Northern Games, and in Edmonton at the Commonwealth Games. Through her years as program coordinator she oversaw 100s of kids perform. Now, her daughter Marilyn Jenson performs with the Dakhká Khwáan dancers.
Traditionally, the Folklore Show takes place during the Sourdough Rendezvous. Before the Yukon Arts Centre was created, the show would be held at different schools in Whitehorse.
Aboriginal dances are the centre point of the Folklore Show. First Nation dance groups from the Yukon, Northwest Territories and even Alaska have come to perform throughout the years.
One of the most popular dances performed is the Grouse Dance. It is performed by children, and depicts a love story. On January 31, this dance, among others, will be performed at the Folklore Show. “I wish everyone a happy, happy Sourdough Rendezvous, I hope everyone has a good time, and enjoys bringing back the old times. It’s a great way to bring people together and show support.”
For tickets, visit the Yukon Arts Centre box office.