The bi-annual Myth and Medium symposium runs from February 24 to 28 this year, the week after the territorial Heritage Day holiday.
Heritage Day originally inspired the idea of Myth and Medium about a decade ago. The first symposium tied in nicely with both a display of the Cameron Collection, brought here by Ken Lister from the Royal Ontario Museum, and a local screening of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by director Zacharias Kunuk.
It was a great success, unexpectedly drawing in people from all over the territory, but after sessions in 2003 and 2004 it became clear that it was too much work to be undertaken annually. The symposium disappeared for a few years, but came back in 2012.
In 2012 it covered two days; this time it is running all week.
Jodi Beaumont, the traditional knowledge specialist with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s Heritage Department, says the theme of the symposium changes every year.
“This year there’s a real focus on art – carving, jewelry making, painting,” Beaumont says. “Last time there was more effort put on storytelling.”
The event will begin just after noon on February 24, with Ken Lister talking about the work of 19th century artist, Paul Kane. It will conclude on Friday evening with Gwandaak Theatre’s presentation of Keith Barker’s play The Hours That Remain, inspired by the infamous Highway of Tears in Northern British Columbia.
In between, there will be artist talks by Ukjese Van Kampen, Mathew Nuqingaq, and Dennis Shorty on opening night; Heritage Professionals’ sessions on working together, cultural education, and language; and an evening of lectures by Lister and historian Ken Coates.
Wednesday and Thursday will feature intensive workshops on painting (Van Kampen), jewelry smithing (Nuqingaq) and carving (Shorty). Thursday will also include a cultural fair with hands-on activities, demonstrations, and knowledge sharing, by local and visiting participants.
Friday morning will wrap up with a workshop on caring for objects, conducted by Val Monaghan and Cathie Richie, with a special focus on moccasins.
While much of the activity will take place at either the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre or the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Community Hall, there will also be sessions at the Robert Service School and the Yukon School of Visual Arts.
A Wednesday evening concert will feature Dennis Shorty’s band, Dena Zagi, and Matthew Nuqingaq, and the screening of the Canadian film about the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation, called How a People Live.
There will be a traditional feast on Thursday evening. Beaumont explains that this means it will be prepared and served by the men of the community.
In addition to being a public celebration, Beaumont says it’s also a time for heritage professionals to network and share ideas.
“In Dawson we have basically all the levels of heritage professionals represented,” she says. “We have Parks Canada, the Yukon Government, the Dawson City Museum, all these different areas. A lot of the communities don’t have these opportunities, so for them to come and see how we make some of these things happen is instructive.”
It’s fair to say that things happen in Dawson in spite of conflicting policies and protocols that can make cooperation difficult.
“In Dawson we make it happen,” Beaumont says.
This year’s Myth and Medium will be another example of that spirit in action.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.