Dawson’s Got Culture

Things generally slow down at the Dänojà Zho (Hän for Long Ago House) Cultural Centre once the summer season is over and the tourists are gone, but this fall season has been something of an exception.

The place is a hotbed of activity, even in December.

The building is approaching its 15th year of operation and is now an accepted part of the Dawson landscape, though its award-winning architectural design was a bit controversial when it was new.

Rather, while the Gold Rush motif is favoured in the downtown area and along the dike, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in chose to go with a First Nations’ theme.

The building interprets the look of salmon drying racks and traditional winter shelters, while its main gathering room has floor-to-ceiling windows that face the Yukon River and draw attention to either the water or the ice and snow at all seasons of the year.

From the Gathering Room, which has themed exhibits annually, visitors can go north to the circular Hammerstone Gallery to view displays showing the history of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and their quest for self-government.

To the east of the Gathering Room is an auditorium with comfortable seating. The small stage plays host to lectures, theatre presentations, movies, concerts and, on the week I am writing this, will be in use two evenings in addition to a number of afternoon activities.

What has kept Glenda Bolt, Dänojà Zho manager, and her staff particularly busy this fall is a series of programs for the Robert Service School and the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

This series started as an extension of the summer theme on storytelling with a focus on Moosehide Slide, but branched out in October with talks about Sasquatch legends to fit in with Halloween.

“We set that up in the theatre. We had our artificial campfire and flashlights and glow sticks. The kids were amazing,” Bolt says.

Fran Morberg-Green has been doing a hands-on beading class and Bolt has been showing films on selected themes for the school’s Traditional Knowledge class each Friday afternoon in their last period of the day.

“Usually it takes two Fridays to finish a film, ’cause they are feature length,” says Bolt.

When local artist Michael Mason recently put on an art exhibition in the Gathering Room, students from the school and the college were invited to meet him, see his work, listen to his talk about his technique, and try a bit of it themselves.

“We’ve achieved more school programming this fall season than we’ve been able to achieve in three years,” says Bolt.

Some of these ideas will reach beyond Dawson, as Bolt has been approached by Whitehorse educators about bringing some of their students to the centre.

Finally, in this pre-Christmas season the centre’s gift shop is open and doing a booming business in crafts, books and First Nations’ music.

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