“Who wants to sit up front in the co-pilot’s seat?” asked Adam, the float plane pilot. No one in that tiny plane had a chance to say anything. I was so eager to be right up front, I jumped at the opportunity. It was my first float plane ride and I, along with several others, was heading to paddle the Beaver River in one of the most pristine parts of the world. Lucky for me, this is also my traditional territory. The view from where I was sitting was extraordinary and I couldn’t wait to be down in the heart of it all.
CPAWS Yukon has, for the second year in a row, organized a paddling trip on the Beaver River for the youth of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun. It’s a way for us to see what could perish if mining companies continue to stake claims and develop roads through this vast, untouched area. Our world, it seems, has so few real untouched places left.
This trip was even more special for me as I got to paddle the Beaver River with my older and younger sisters and one of my very good friends, the well-known Bobbi-Rose Koe from the Teetl’it Gwich’in first nation. Bobbi-Rose is an inspiring young First Nations woman who has learned and retained a lot from her Elders. She recently became a Teetl’it Gwich’in river guide and is starting up her river guiding business, which is such an inspiration for young Indigenous youth! Throughout the trip, she and I shared stories and I listened in awe. Bobbi-Rose has a beautiful way of telling stories that makes you feel like you are living the story alongside her.
Being out on the land with my sisters, cousins, and friends old and new, sharing stories, food, laughs and tears, I got a sense of how our ancestors must have lived and how they took in the beauty of the land and used all its offerings with respect and restraint. The simplest things are burned in my memory, such as little animal trails leading to the water from the side of the creeks; squirrels and muskrats; wild, plump and sweet blueberries; salmon fry swimming in the shallow waters of the Beaver River. The list truly does go on.
The first few days of the trip, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that there are businesses that don’t stop to think of the impact resulting from developed roads, nevermind the fact that there is already blasting and drilling going on in many similar, pristine places. Why would anyone want to disturb this natural habitat for the animals, fish and trees? The waters that flow throughout that area are so crystal clear and clean to drink. I thought constantly about the fact that this is what our ancestors got to experience and have right at their fingertips. The mountain peaks were also magical to me. I had never seen any landscape like that before and it made me want to also experience the Wind, Peel and Snake Rivers. I have only seen photos and know now that I need to see that area as well.
Over the course of the 12 days paddling and portaging, we went through the waters of the Clark Lakes, Scougle Creek and the Beaver River. We met up with the confluence of the Rackla River, and the well-known Stewart River. All these bodies of water flowed in their own way. When we hit a new body of water, you could tell just by the colour, especially the Stewart River. The landscape surrounding the Stewart dramatically changes once you hit those waters. The spruce trees are thick around every corner. The swirling eddies remind you of the fact that this body of water can swallow you up whole. It’s a dangerous place to be. But I felt safe, knowing my people have gone down this path so many times before. And I then got a sense of feeling almost at home, and that this experience was coming to an end. I was sad that day, knowing our journey was almost over, because I had this feeling that I could have stayed out in that beautiful country for at least another few weeks.
With only a few more days to go, I worked up the courage to stern the canoe. It can be quite scary on the river, but Bobbi-Rose was a great teacher. I did really well and I was happy to make Bobbi and my new “Beaver River family” proud. I sterned for two whole days and let me tell you, my right arm was very sore! A good kind of sore, however, the kind of pain that makes you know you were tough when the going was rough.
We finished our journey in my hometown of Mayo, aka the Heart of the Yukon. We were met by the community and a socially-distanced welcome home parade where we all received a certificate in Junior Guiding & Leadership training. All of us learned so much about ourselves and each other during this almost two-week endeavor. I saw the two youngest on the trip, Liam and Irene (my sister), both 13, overcome long, hard days with smiles on their faces. At the end of those days, they didn’t want to rest, but stayed up to play Monopoly beside the campfire. I saw Bryan Moses, who I’ve known all my life, in his element. I learned that he knew so much about the area, the fish and wildlife! I never knew! It truly goes to show that everyone has a different side of themselves when out on the land. We become richer, deeper, and somehow simpler people.
I can’t thank CPAWS and Na-Cho Nyak Dun enough for the opportunities they gave me and my fellow citizens on this epic and wild canoeing adventure. Mussi-cho!