Move over Victoria Day, there’s another holiday in town.
Before all you Queen enthusiasts spill your tea and choke on your crumpets, you will be happy to know that this particular holiday has exclusive rights and won’t hamper your royal three-day weekend in any way — unless you live in Old Crow.
On this long weekend the community celebrates the Vadzaih Choo Drin which means Big Caribou Days.
This is a four-day celebration to honour the importance of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to the people of the Vuntut Gwitchin.
Former event coordinator Brenda Frost explains, “It was felt that we needed to come together not only to celebrate the existence of caribou in our lives, but also to teach the younger generation through demonstrations and storytelling.”
Created through the Vuntut Gwitchin’s Natural Resources department, and later partnered with Parks Canada in affiliation with Vuntut National Park, the first official Big Caribou Days was in 2001.
Initially, it was held twice a year, in the spring and fall. The fall celebration centered on the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s yearly migration to their calving grounds. Now the distinctly Gwitchin event has found a home on the long weekend in May.
Caribou is the star of the show, but that doesn’t stop beaver and muskrat from making guest appearances.
I witnessed a beaver-skinning demonstration. While some may be repulsed at the idea, I found the process engaging, and was impressed at the care taken while handling the animal — it was a reminder that the Gwitchin live hand-in-hand with their surroundings.
Big Caribou Days is also jam-packed with games, music, dances, demonstrations, elder story-telling, and community meals. You could show up at any time of the day and engage in a great activity.
I tried my luck at the log throw, attempted to be the victor in an old-fashioned egg-toss, and cleaned up in one of many poker runs.
The man and woman relay race is one of the most popular competitions. Contestants race to hop out of their sleeping bags, haul wood, set a muskrat trap, and so forth, and then make it back to their sleeping bag. Past mini-tasks of this race have included skinning a caribou leg and giving tea to an elder.
The race does has cultural importance because simulates the idea of surviving while living off the land.
The day-to-day activities at the community hall were enjoyed by all. It was nice to see town children interacting and playing games. It was fun when adults played the same games and activities as the kids, like throwing darts and sack races — simple yet challenging fun that put smiles on faces, young and old.
I’ll miss Vadzaih Choo Drin when I’m back in Whitehorse next year during the May long weekend.
But who knows—maybe instead of saying “God Save the Queen” while sitting on my porch, I’ll throw some caribou steaks on the barbeque, and challenge my wife to a one-on-one game of egg toss.