Peel Guerrilleros

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Mountains Blackstone River Watershed. Photo by: Damien Tremblay

By: Damien Tremblay

The fight for the Peel Watershed is like an old western movie: Cowboys vs. Indians; developers vs. tree-huggers; evil vs. good; a black-and-white confrontation. Who are the protagonists and what are their motives?

Let’s imagine that each protagonist has good reasons, and a true motive—the “true motive” being more or less conscious or unspoken. The Yukon Party and the miners want the Peel open for mining and for roads. They use terms like “development” and “balance” to justify their views. They have good reasons: create jobs, they say, and a strong economy of course. Their true motive is clear, however. It is to conform to a world of big money, profits and dividends.

First Nations, conservation groups and wilderness tourism operators all have excellent reasons for protecting the Peel: keeping alive a culture along with the ancestral land, saving a shrinking wilderness and beautiful mountain ecosystems for our own purposes and for the next generations. Are those reasons not enough already? There is another true motive we seldom discuss.

The Peel watershed, like so many mountainous areas, is a place of resistance—a highly political space. Mountains are an essential component of the geography of rebellion. They offered refuge to the maquisards in occupied France. They provided perfect forest and scrub cover for the guerilla warfare of the Fellagha during the Algerian war of independence. Rugged valleys and dizzy summits are still hiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It is a historical reality. Mountain ranges thwart the plans of the most powerful armies. They defy logistics; they defy heavily armed forces, challenge economy. Unpredictable and treacherous, they defeat some of the most potent human systems. The dissident, the terrorist, the guerrillero, all find protection in those untamed and remote lands. Far from the centres of power, their ideologies, their beliefs are safer. They are free to exist. Remoteness offers freedom.

If mountain rebels are often a minority and definitely weaker than their opponents, they have at least, the satisfaction of being higher than they. It is much more than a fact of altitude. It is often a philosophical position; principles that make them believe they are higher. They need to be mentally and morally stronger. They fight dominant ideologies, governments and economic systems that by nature are adverse to any type of dissidence—yes, even democracies.

In many ways, mountains are the last physical outpost for critical thinkers. The Peel River is precious because it is a space of alternative; the polar opposite of a world of consumerism, laws and self-destruction. Yes, it is worth being protected because it is a space where we can still say “no.”

Who is the Peel guerrillero of today? How does he fight?

A Peel River skirmish already happened in 1932. Albert Johnson, the “Mad Trapper” was chased by an army of pursuers in the Rat River area, a tributary of the Peel. He had killed a constable and wounded others. For weeks Albert Johnson was able to elude his pursuers. Many media followed his exceptional feats of endurance with great interest. The man fought a police force, a government. The Peel guerrillero of today shares a few commonalities with Johnson, but he is a different type of warrior.

Johnson was fighting in the Peel River area, the best place to escape for him. The Peel guerrillero of today fights for the Peel area—to keep alive the possibility of escape. Johnson’s world had no laws, only the law of nature. Kill or be killed. The Peel guerrillero hopes laws will protect the Peel. He believes in lawsuits. The Johnson’s chase only lasted a few weeks. The lawsuit may spread on several years.

Johnson was fighting a government, just like our guerrillero. But even if Johnson had some sympathy from the public, he was alone and isolated, completely disconnected from any sort of help. The Peel guerrillero is not alone, there are many like him and he can count on global sympathy with social networks.

Johnson followed ridges to spy better on his pursuers; he erased his tracks, sometimes starting gunfights to defend himself. The Peel guerrillero does not erase his tracks. He leaves them everywhere! Newspapers, both printed and online versions, films, photos, and comments on the web are all shared massively. He reaches Google immortality. The Peel guerrillero signs Facebook petitions and clicks “like” on gorgeous Peel Watershed photos. He puts stickers “Protect the Peel” on his car. He participates in peaceful protests in front of the Yukon Legislature. He is non-violent in his actions.

The Peel guerrillero believes in democracy. For him “more democracy” will save his cause. He believes in consultations, letters to elected officials and letters to the editor. Johnson, in all likelihood, did not care about the principles of democracy. He survived. If he believed in anything, it was probably in his bush skills. Paranoid Johnson did not need to believe in conspiracy theories; he was living them. They were all after him. But there is something more dangerous than conspiracy that threatens the Peel watershed—it is indifference. How many people really care about the Peel? A lot maybe; but not enough. The Peel guerrillero needs an even wider audience if he wants to win.

Johnson wanted to be left alone. Maybe a bit crazy, he had, however, outstanding stamina and the will to fight till the end. He was hard to kill. Peel guerrilleros’ lives are not directly threatened and all guerrilleros have not the same level of commitment to win. But many of them are smart and they are now angry. They want to stray off from a univocal path of “if you can hold it, it was mined.” They want to strip away the government’s hypocrisy. They want to see real balance in the world.

Technology, in the form of a plane, defeated Johnson in the end. From the air, he was found easily in the barren landscape of the Eagle River. The Peel guerrillero can take virtual shapes, he is super connected. He masters technology and the digital age. Johnson was surviving in a cold Yukon winter. The Peel guerrillero can live at the other end of the world, in a tropical climate, and still fight adequately. In fact many guerrilleros have never put a foot in the Peel watershed. The legacy of the Mad Trapper lives on. It has reached legendary status. The Peel guerrillero has still to prove himself.

The Mad Trapper has been dead for a long time now but we can wonder if the recent threats on the watershed will bring him back to life. His spirit is already here.

Revolutionizing Resolutions for New Year

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Revolutionizing Resolutions

By Melanie Hackett

It’s happening again. Fireworks are lighting the skies all around the globe. The ball is dropping. People are writing down everything that is going to change with this new beginning. But what exactly is the significance of the New Year?

For most, it’s a clean slate. People are comforted by the idea of a chance to start fresh, erase the mistakes and bad things of the past, celebrate the accomplishments, and resolve to make positive changes starting – mañana!

In reality, most of us realize that New Year’s resolutions typically don’t make it through the first month. It is after all a wee bit irrational to believe that things can just change at the drop of a hat – or a ball in this case. But it is a global starting point for people to reflect on their lives and the changes they want to make, to talk about it, and to participate in something that makes their resolutions seem to sink in.

My mother has always said, “New Year’s resolutions are silly. If I am not pleased with something in my life, I will change it NOW, and not wait until the New Year!” And kudos to her! To change old habits can be extremely difficult and not everyone can do it without some kind of starting point, and even then, we have to work extremely hard not to fall back into the same habits. That is why so many people make resolutions at this time of year. It brings people hope and confidence that they can implement the changes they want to see in themselves or their lives.

For me, New Year’s always held special significance. Our coach for competitive Irish Dancing taught us to reflect on our accomplishments over the past year, and to write out the goals that eluded us or new goals that we wished to achieve in the coming year, as well as a strict plan on how we would aim to do that. My plan would include monthly, weekly and daily strategies, outlining in detail the changes I was committed to making in order to improve my skills at a faster rate. Sometimes, we had to bring these goals in to the first class. Other years, we brought our papers in prepared to share them with the class, only to be told that we were going to get straight to work and start sweating – hard! We would then be required to glue our goals to our mirrors so we would be forced to look at them every morning. But in the end, I think we were all going to work as hard as we already did, whether or not a new year came. The results we wanted to see were much stronger motivating factors than the change from December to January. Similarly, the reason for wanting to make any resolution and the results of the change should be motivating in itself, because ultimately we are not motivated by the change from one day to the next even if it is a new year.

This year, I’ve been struggling with the task of writing down New Year’s resolutions. I don’t anymore compete in the sport that consumed my entire existence, where goals and successes were very well defined. Now, like most people in their twenties, the direction of my life is a little more vague. So instead, I am reflecting on the reasons why it was so important to me, and many others, to come up with resolutions before that ball drops. In the world of highly competitive athletes, it is easy to be defined by your accomplishments, especially in the elite levels. This is particularly true when athletes are children or adolescents with brains that are developing, and their self-identities are only just forming. When 110 percent of their focus is towards reaching a specific goal, as is necessary if they are to succeed in elite sports, they cannot build all of the other elements that make up a healthy self-identity. Essentially, they can become defined by a number – the value of their top placement.

And what is the New Year? It is also just a number; a day like any other. It only holds the meaning we decide to attach to it. So rather than expecting ourselves to be able to change things that we haven’t yet managed to change and being disappointed that an arbitrary number did not change anything at all, why not frame this New Year simply in terms of hope for a good next cycle of the seasons. Why not simply resolve to enter into a future that can be satisfying even though it lacks everything that we may desire; a future that offers hope that if we cannot change certain things, that we will be at peace with the unavoidable rougher times we will all face within the next journey around the sun?

Tonight, for the first time since I can remember, I will not be writing down any resolutions. I will raise my glass of Glühwein high, and toast to the continuation of this ongoing journey through time, resolving to celebrate the good things each day and to enjoy a future that has hope even with the inevitable challenges life will bring. Happy New Year!

Eyjafjallajӧ-KABOOM!

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Lava lake at Pu'u O'o crater, Hawaii Big Island (Photo: Melanie Hackett)

Where Fire Meets Ice – The Icelandic Eruption

By: Melanie Hackett

Humans have always been fascinated by the immense power of volcanoes. After all, volcanoes are responsible for the birth of new earth, as is rapidly happening on the Big Island of Hawaii. In fact, the gases released by volcanoes may have contributed to the creation of our atmosphere, and therefore set the stage for all of life itself.

Here in the Yukon, these spewing beasts of fire have helped shape the landscape. Have you ever driven the Klondike Highway to Dawson and wondered about the white layer on the sides of the road, especially visible near Carmacks? That is volcanic ash, or tephra, from a massive eruption of Mount Churchill 1300 years ago. Near Fort Selkirk, at the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly rivers, Volcano Mountain is a young and active cinder cone.

But what happens when volcanoes erupt in frigid areas full of glaciers, and how does that change the landscape afterwards? In 2010, a team of scientists from the UK and Iceland set out to the flanks of Eyjafjallajӧkull to discover the consequences of fire meeting with ice.

Remember this Icelandic eruption? Yes, it’s the one that caused the greatest air travel disruption since the Second World War as ash clouds blanketed Europe. However, Eyjafjallajӧkull provided the opportunity for scientists to learn how volcano-driven torrents of glacial meltwater would behave and how they would alter the landscape.

Prince William Sound, Alaska
Prince William Sound, Alaska

When the volcano rumbled to life on April 14, 2010, it melted large amounts of ice, sending cascades of meltwater roaring down the mountain. These glacial outburst floods are given the easily pronounced name jӧkulhlaup. The action culminated in two larger floods that sent the equivalent of 60 thousand Canada Games Centre swimming pools down the flanks of the volcano! The surge flowed both underneath and atop the glacier, carrying gravel and debris into a lake at the base of nearby Gigjӧkull glacier. And before you can say “Eyjafjallajӧkull”, the lake level rose by nearly five metres, engulfing the scientists’ equipment. The jӧkulhlaup continued its rampage, smashed through the far lake wall and drained the lake entirely.

Before this, not much was known about what happens as these catastrophic floods are raging down volcanoes. The scientists’ time-lapse imagery showed another subsequent 140 jӧkulhlaups. Each of these is believed to have occurred after the rupture of temporary blockages in meltwater rivers. These floods were much smaller than the initial two because the increasing tephra created an insulating layer on the ice, so less could melt. However, what the scientists discovered, to their surprise, was that contrary to previous belief, the large floods did not actually transport the most debris. The 140 smaller jӧkulhlaups had a much greater influence on the new shape of the land, as they brought fans of gravel down the mountain.

These findings will be invaluable for future hazard assessment, especially since more and more of these glacial outburst floods are expected in our warming climate. Closer to home, a future jӧkulhlaup is possible at Lowell Lake, a sediment-dammed lake at the headwaters of the Alsek River. Currently there is not enough water in the lake to flood Haines Junction if a catastrophic flood were to happen, but as Lowell glacier melts into the lake with global warming, this could be of concern in the future. However, as Eyjafjallajӧkull has shown us, it is not necessarily the largest and most powerful body that initiates change. There is strength in numbers, and change can be initiated by much smaller forces, that when combined, hold great power.

Here in the Yukon, these spewing beasts of fire have helped shape the landscape. Have you ever driven the Klondike Highway to Dawson and wondered about the white layer on the sides of the road, especially visible near Carmacks? That is volcanic ash, or tephra, from a massive eruption of Mount Churchill 1300 years ago. Near Fort Selkirk, at the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly rivers, Volcano Mountain is a young and active cinder cone.

The Peel River and The New Bill

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The Peel River

By: Linda Leon

Recently, Member of Parliament for Western Arctic, Dennis Bevington introduced Bill C-543 in the House of Commons, which asked that the Peel River be added to the list of rivers protected under the Navigation Protection Act (NPA).  (Mr. Bevington’s previous Bill S-7 asked that several other NWT rivers be added to the list.)  Yukon MP, Ryan Leef, has objected to this, calling Mr. Bevington names and stating that the bills were “useless”.   Mr. Leef also declared, without any substantiation that “This is in Complete contrast to the wishes of the government and people of the Northwest Territories.”

Mr. Leef is correct in stating that the Navigation Protection Act is not about environmental protection.  But the Act does contain sections that would insure greater environmental protection.

Under Ominous Budget Bill C-45, the Navigational Waters Protection Act (NWPA) was amended.  Aside from changing the title of the Act to the Navigation Protection Act (NPA), all but large navigable waters were removed from protection. Mr. Leef claims that this was done at the request of farm groups and municipalities who suffered unnecessary hardship caused by the obligation to protect drainage ditches.  Surely, if the Conservative Government was that concerned about the trouble caused to municipalities and farmers, they could have found a way within this legislation to deal only with those situations.  It wouldn’t have been difficult.

The industrial sector that benefits the most from this change to the NPA are pipeline companies.  Under this new legislation, standards for putting pipelines under the majority of waterways in Canada will be less strict.  Any waterways covered in the NPA would receive better environmental protection.  I would suggest that these amendments were made to further the interests of the fossil fuel industry which can dispense with the costly mitigations it is currently required to perform.

It is unlikely that pipelines will be built under the Peel River in the near future.  But there are other protections from harm included in the NPA that would offer extra protection for the Peel River.  Sections 21 and 22 of the NPA prohibit dumping.  The Yukon Government is contemplating considerable resource development in the Peel River Watershed.  Roads and highways will be built if this is allowed to proceed.  How well constructed future bridges crossing the Peel River are and how careful resource companies are about dumping will be affected by inclusion under the NPA.

Sections 21 and 22 of the navigational Waters Act:

Section 21. No person shall throw or deposit or cause, suffer or permit to be thrown or deposited any sawdust, edgings, slabs, bark or like rubbish of any description whatever that is liable to interfere with navigation in any water, any part of which is navigable or that flows into any navigable water.

22. No person shall throw or deposit or cause, suffer or permit to be thrown or deposited any stone, gravel, earth, cinders, ashes or other material or rubbish that is liable to sink to the bottom in any water, any part of which is navigable or that flows into any navigable water, where there are not at least twenty fathoms of water at all times, but nothing in this section shall be construed so as to permit the throwing or depositing of any substance in any part of a navigable water where that throwing or depositing is prohibited by or under any other Act.

Linda Leon is not a member of any political party.

Journey to the Midnight Sun: Pedalling with Purpose

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Journey to the Midnight Sun: Pedalling with Purpose

It’s lunch time. I’m alone, in a spectacular land with twice as many moose as people. My only companion is Skookum – my mountain bike. The nearest settlement is three days of biking away down the Dempster Highway. Suddenly, a flash of fur in the bushes interrupts my tranquil munching. “A lynx!” I think as I stand and grab my camera. What I see then stops my heart in mid-beat. It’s no lynx. It’s a giant grizzly. And it’s lumbering directly towards me, nonchalant, ignoring my yells, unaware of my bear spray. I have two options. I can keep yelling until the massive beast is within range of my puny can of spray. Or I can retreat, allowing it to hop onto the picnic table and chow down on the irreplaceable food intended to get me through ten days of biking through the Yukon wilderness. No time for thinking. I choose potential starvation over immediate mauling. And flee. This is going to put a serious spoke in my wheel. How do I get out of this dilemma? How did I get into it!? And why?

This past August, I began a typical day in my role as Recreation Director in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. This is the home of the Selkirk First Nation. The challenges for this community are as vast as the size of the territory: the tragedies experienced in residential schools, including severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse have left them with intergenerational cycles of trauma and ensuing social woes. Living and working here is extremely challenging and emotionally draining, so when three cyclists passing through jokingly invited me to join them on their quest from Vancouver to the Arctic, I said what only someone who’s gone loopy from the midnight sun would say: “Absolutely!”

Dempster Highway
Dempster Highway

The mere mention of the name “Dempster Highway” strikes terror into the hearts of rational cycle tourists. The Dempster is the most northern road in Canada. It is an isolated 750 kilometre stretch of dirt (or impassable mud depending on the weather) with no services, travelling from Dawson City in the Yukon to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Heading north on the Klondike highway five hundred kilometres south of the Dempster, there is a sign warning you that you are leaving the area covered by emergency services. It is not uncommon to have hundred kilometre per hour winds blowing across the Arctic tundra, and snow even in the middle of summer. The weather can change overnight from 35 degrees Celsius to freezing. Grizzlies roam the entire stretch on the hunt either for caribou or for the weeks of food rations in the panniers of crazy cyclists, if not the cyclists themselves! Even displaced polar bears lacking ice have been found strolling down the Dempster.

I immediately drove three hours south to Whitehorse to get geared up in a mad rush. My friends there reasoned I had gone nuts – us Yukoners have been on the Dempster in vehicles, and it is common to bring at least three spare tires and multiple jerry cans. While most people who bike the Dempster, having never been there, have the benefit (or misfortune) of being able to lead themselves into false hope that the local stories are not true, I fully knew what to expect. This trio comprised of an 18-year-old bike mechanic, a 19-year-old ultra-marathoner, and the 21-year-old leader who cycled coast to coast across Canada. To make things more terrifying, I had no idea if I could keep up with the team that called themselves GrassRoutes, having suffered a nasty accident three years ago that left me with chronic pain. Additionally, the weather was calling for blowing rain and snow for most of the ten day expedition. The Dempster, I knew, was going to be hell on wheels to tackle!

So, why on Earth, you wonder? GrassRoutes is a youth organization that embarks on extended bike trips for the personal growth that immense challenges provide, while delivering workshops for kids along the way on human-caused environmental issues. They also fundraise for youth bike co-ops and create video documentaries to use in future workshops. Their Journey to the Midnight Sun focused on issues of global warming as observed migrating from south to north and how the regions impact one another. This was a journey of learning and educating about the unsustainable things we are doing – why on Earth, our only home, indeed.

On day one of the trip, although my teammates were mostly just three specs on the horizon ahead, the weather was great, the scenery spectacular. I ignored the searing pain in my back and my chafed crotch, convincing myself that it was simply due to my sedentary office job and that I’d probably build up scar tissue or something. If this was as bad as it got, bring it on, Dempster!

Dempster biking the circle
Dempster biking the circle

Then, an event unfolded that made my stomach turn over. As if in slow motion, Graham, our team leader, turned right over his handlebars, metal and flesh colliding with the road in spectacular fashion. Gavin, who had caused the crash by suddenly cutting Graham off, guiltily ran to Graham’s aid. For me, it was like watching a video of myself being hit three years earlier, flying over Skookum and smashing the pavement. Flashbacks to that horrific moment when my passions, career choices, even social circles and whole identity slipped away made my head spin. Shaken, I had no choice but to keep on spinning and ride it out. Fortunately Graham only suffered minor wounds. Just minutes from our destination, Saskia also bailed off of her bike as her tire went “pop!” Right, three spare tires, eh Dempster? Would it be my turn next? I firmly decided I had already had my turn to bail, and this was going to be a great journey. Dempster, bring it on!

Day two. I watched some graduate students from Ottawa who were in the field for a month studying the shrinking layer of permafrost. I biked alone that day, having caught a ride with a Pennsylvanian environmental geography professor to the northern border of Tombstone Territorial Park. I took this head start with the majority of the team’s weight. I opted to do this to help the team make a very long day possible in order to reach a camp with bear caches, as the trees up north are too small to hang food high enough. Ironically, this is when I encountered my large furry friend.

Interestingly, I was not as afraid of this situation as I am of biking in a city of traffic. Sometimes our perceived versus actual risk are two very different things, and I believe driving a car is more dangerous than this grizzly was. Similarly, throughout our workshops we found that compared to people up north, southerners from cities did not perceive climate change to be as serious. Even though they understood more of the science, they perhaps do not have the same level of personal connection to nature. Mind you, climate change is happening twice as fast in the Arctic, but northerners even noticed such details as a new insect encroaching upon previously inhospitable territory. In January, we had unusual rain which created a layer of ice that cut up moose’s legs so badly that they were unable to escape wolves. In Pelly we had a plight of aspen tortrix worms that would normally be unable to survive if winters are cold enough. Not only did it look like the Apocalypse having to walk through thousands of suspended worms, but after mummifying entire trees in webs they also ate the moist leaves, worsening forest fires from the unusually intense lightning storms. In Inuvik, people’s houses fell over due to the melting permafrost.

On the rest of the journey we continued to encounter challenges. Like the elder back in Pelly that kept unravelling my imperfect moccasin beadwork, we kept unravelling our hard work up mountains. I held my face against relentless wind and rain on the downs. We had to keep spirits high and get along, relying on each other for survival. For a two day stretch, we had to carry all of the water we would need. We were stuck for a day on the several inches of mud that the road had become in a blizzard, already short on bear-slobber-free food. Even the road maintenance crew could not navigate their trucks through the mud. After entering the Mackenzie Delta, Canada’s largest river, it became a mental game as we biked in a straight flat line past miniature trees for three days with the sun going around in circles. By that point, the mud had destroyed my brakes and shifters, and I started calling the road the “Dumpster”!
Once in Inuvik, we faced different challenges – hardly as scary as an 800-pound grizzly, but daunting in their own way. We delivered workshops, did radio interviews, toured the Aurora College and Research Centre to learn about their renewable energy research (wind power doesn’t work yet as their turbine fell over due to the shifting permafrost) and changing migratory bird nesting grounds. We met with Floyd Roland, Inuvialuit mayor of Inuvik and former premier of NWT. As a native to this area, he grew up living off the land and realizes the importance of finding sustainable lifestyles in this fragile ecosystem rather than exploiting the finite natural resources that they have, but he is also challenged by the desire to keep his young people on their homeland to preserve their traditional ways and culture. That is only possible if there are enough jobs for them. Currently a topic of debate is the year-round road to Tuktoyaktuk project and the ensuing natural gas extraction destined for pipeline export to northern Alberta, ultimately for use in extracting Tar Sands bitumen. As it turns out, like most mining in the Yukon, workers are often not local but rather outsiders that work several weeks at a time before leaving with their earnings, as there may not be enough qualified locals to do the jobs.

On the flight back to Dawson, I marvelled at the spectacular land below and my newly formed deeper connection to it. Our Yukon truly is the Last Frontier, something that is worth more than words can describe. It was strangely disconcerting to watch it all go by in a mere two hours, after ten days of harsh struggles. In our comfortable modern life, people are becoming less attached to nature, which itself takes its toll on human health. My struggles on the Dempster were unquestionably worth it. Becoming intimately connected with such pristine wilderness that most do not get to experience in their lifetimes is a truly rewarding experience, and one that I hope more city dwellers have before they unsustainably exploit what is there in the name of economy, completely unaware of how much more there is to be lost.

Oh yes, the grizzly… although the beast had good taste and ate our favourites, eventually a car came by and I got the driver to keep the bear at bay with fervent honking while I rescued my food. Supplemented with the plentiful berries around, we made it safely to the Land of the Midnight Sun!

Family

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Participating in a Punjabi wedding

By Alina Dragomir

I can’t believe I spent the first couple of months in relative fear of mingling more deeply with locals I met during my travels. Sure, there’s the occasional light conversation (“where you from, madam?”), and there was always enough mingling with local culture through CouchSurfing families. But India is one of those places where you can easily “couchsurf” minus the website, the real human way. Anyways, as I slowly started to experiment with this, I met many amazing people who shared so much with me over the following couple of months.

When I was on the train from Delhi to Amritsar, a lovely encounter had occurred, and although initially I was not intending on visiting Harvinder and her family, some chatting with other adventurous couchsurfers made me say “F it, I’m going off the beaten path for a while.” So I got a box of Punjabi sweets and called them up telling them I’m coming over. Their English was not so good, but we agreed that they would pick me up at the train station in Jalandhar, and I should just keep them posted on my arrival time. However, I had lost my phone as I left Amritsar, so I had to ask around on the train to use other people’s phones.

The train eventually reached Jalandhar and I was greeted by Harvinder’s husband who took me back to their place on his bike with all the bags. They lived in a quiet area with narrow winding streets, and I was thoroughly enjoying being off any Lonely Planet radar.

Meeting with her again was like meeting my mum after not seeing each other for a long time. She took me in her arms and treated me like family. Her entire family was incredibly sweet, even though her daughter (Simran), daughter-in-law, and husband were a bit more shy to attempt conversation with me. Simran spoke really good English, and so did Lovely, her son who recently got married. The five of them lived together, although there is one more son, Simar, who currently resides and works in Australia. They offered to host me for a bit even though they had a small place. I shared a bed with Harvinder and Simran (who would always steal the covers), and it somehow felt so familiar, safe and comfortable – I had no issues with any of it.

During the couple of days I spent at their place, I was recuperating from Amritsar and, feeling a little sick, I didn’t go out almost at all. They fed me delicious home-cooked Punjabi food (too generously), we talked, they taught me some more Hindi/Punjabi, they showed me photos and videos of Lovely’s wedding. And as if that wasn’t enough incredible hospitality already, they even got me a new pair of sandals after my chappals had been stolen at the Golden Temple! I was so moved and I didn’t know how to thank them or refuse or react. They helped me get a new phone as well, and gave me medication for my not-so-happy digestive system and foot rash.

Harvinder was working, so I spent some time alone at home with the girls, mostly in silence, with occasional giggles and smiles, and my trying to get them to share and eat with me, since they always brought me plates of goodies (as the saying goes in India: “Atithi devo bhava”, loosely meaning “the guest is God”). I got to try on the sari version of the clip-on tie (sooo much easier to put on than a regular sari!). I also got to use their internet to Skype with my mum in Canada. She and Harvinder got to see each other in the virtual world and talk a bit also. The conversation went something like this (imagine Harvinder with a thick, sweet Indian accent, and my mum with a just as heavy and lovely Eastern European accent):

Harvinder: “Namaste! How are you? I am here with Alina, your loving daughter!”

Mum: “Yes! I can see that! I’m fine, how are you?”

Harvinder: “Very good. We love your daughter very much. Don’t worry, we are taking good care of her now. She is safe and we love her very much.”

Mum: “Awww, thank you, you are very kind. I miss my daughter also.”

Harvinder: “She misses you too, and I will miss her too when she leaves. You should come visit our home also, with your daughter!”

Mum: “I would love to! One day!”

Laughter ensued. Harvinder gave me a big hug, and my mum was a bit jealous.

Harvinder also Skyped with Simar, her son in Australia, and I was introduced to him. We ended up talking for quite a while and I’m looking forward to visiting him when I will travel there later on.

One pretty awesome thing that happened on my first night there was a wedding party in the streets! Before dinner, we heard some noise outside – drums and singing. And Harvinder called me to the door. There was a procession of people dancing, some musicians playing traditional songs, photographers and people with lights. She told me it was a tradition during the wedding ceremony. The person getting married goes from house to house with family and friends, and there’s dancing and customary rituals being played out. She then asked me if I wanted to go join for a bit. So, naturally, yeah of course!

We approached the crowd, and almost immediately a girl grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me in front of the lights where a few other girls were dancing. So I just joined in and tried to imitate their Punjabi dance moves (I already had some practise with the crowd at Wagah border). I was dressed in my usual hobo-indian-hippie-fusion style, and felt a little self-conscious among the ladies clad in fantastic and sparkly Punjabi suits, but still managed to abandon myself to the ceremony. It was just an incredible feeling to be a part of this. One of those “my own feet and brain have brought me here” happy moments. The women kept asking Harvinder who the white girl was, and when she told them how we met they were incredulous, and she would sometimes add “She is my Canadian daughter!”. But everyone was so friendly and welcoming and smiling.

They would pass around a sort of metal pot to put on the head and walk around with it for a few minutes before passing it on to someone else. I got to try it also. And one of the common traditions in North Indian weddings: twirling a 10 rupee bill around another person’s head (usually the one getting married), for good fortune. That gesture and custom always fascinated me. As I was dancing with the ladies, the older women would twirl the money around the younger girls’ heads (I’m guessing they were bachelorettes), and Harvinder did it to me as well. I almost melted from the sweetness of the gesture. It meant a lot to me coming from her. I also melt whenever someone does the hand-waving gesture that people do to beautiful young girls, to ward away evil. Harvinder also did it to me on my last night. It’s difficult to describe; something like an elegant hand wave with both hands around the girl’s temples. But I would often do it to the lovely ladies I met and it would make them giggle.

The ceremony proceeded to somebody’s house, Harvinder explained it was someone in the family. And they had to give us some treats and drinks. More dancing ensued, I was trying to get Harvinder to come dance with me. I can’t begin to describe how much appreciation I have for this woman I barely knew. Then the procession of people flooded the streets again and continued in this fashion. Harvinder, myself, and part of her family who joined us went back to the house to have dinner.

I would have stayed with the family longer, but I was still really yearning for the mountains and wanted to spend time there before leaving the country. On my last night before parting with Harvinder’s family, we had some incredible conversations about their life, the gurus they follow, the teachings they attended, and their general philosophy of life and God. One thing Harvinder had said among all the compassion and wisdom and incredible stories she had to share was “worship of God is worship of mankind”. And, again, as if it all wasn’t enough, she presented me with a Punjabi suit as a parting gift! I was afraid it would get ruined in my bag, but I ended up carrying it for a couple of weeks and using it at another wedding later on, before sending it back to Canada.

My new family
My new family

The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave, they were all pampering me; they gave me two locks for my bags and more medication. Harvinder was being sweetly overprotective, telling me not to talk to strangers or take food from anyone on trains. But considering how we met, it was still pretty funny to us. She told me to call her every day, or she would call me if I didn’t contact her for a while. Kept asking when I would be back, and to bring my mum too. I took down their address even though she kept insisting I shouldn’t send them anything.

I hugged the girls and hopped on the bike with her husband who would drive me to the bus station. From there I would take a bus to Palampur, near Dharamsala, to stay with my next CouchSurfing host (Mountains! Oh boy oh boy!). As I got on the bike and embraced Harvinder one last time, tears started streaming down her face. “I will miss you, my loving daughter, I love you!” “I will miss my Punjabi mama too!”. I was beyond speechless and so incredibly touched. She is one of the most loving and selfless people I have met in my life.

At the bus station, the husband bought me some bananas for the road, even though I was trying to refuse and pay them myself. We shook hands when I got on the bus, but I could see he was saddened as well.

They really were like family to me. And we talked almost every day after that. I called Harvinder for her birthday, sent postcards and photos, and occasionally I call from other countries now also. And it is always so uplifting to hear their voices. I would love to visit them again one day. I really only wish I could have given back as much generosity as they showed me! But it was time to pay it forward…in Himachal Pradesh.

Family

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Participating in a Punjabi wedding

By Alina Dragomir

I can’t believe I spent the first couple of months in relative fear of mingling more deeply with locals I met during my travels. Sure, there’s the occasional light conversation (“where you from, madam?”), and there was always enough mingling with local culture through CouchSurfing families. But India is one of those places where you can easily “couchsurf” minus the website, the real human way. Anyways, as I slowly started to experiment with this, I met many amazing people who shared so much with me over the following couple of months.

When I was on the train from Delhi to Amritsar, a lovely encounter had occurred, and although initially I was not intending on visiting Harvinder and her family, some chatting with other adventurous couchsurfers made me say “F it, I’m going off the beaten path for a while.” So I got a box of Punjabi sweets and called them up telling them I’m coming over. Their English was not so good, but we agreed that they would pick me up at the train station in Jalandhar, and I should just keep them posted on my arrival time. However, I had lost my phone as I left Amritsar, so I had to ask around on the train to use other people’s phones.

The train eventually reached Jalandhar and I was greeted by Harvinder’s husband who took me back to their place on his bike with all the bags. They lived in a quiet area with narrow winding streets, and I was thoroughly enjoying being off any Lonely Planet radar.

Meeting with her again was like meeting my mum after not seeing each other for a long time. She took me in her arms and treated me like family. Her entire family was incredibly sweet, even though her daughter (Simran), daughter-in-law, and husband were a bit more shy to attempt conversation with me. Simran spoke really good English, and so did Lovely, her son who recently got married. The five of them lived together, although there is one more son, Simar, who currently resides and works in Australia. They offered to host me for a bit even though they had a small place. I shared a bed with Harvinder and Simran (who would always steal the covers), and it somehow felt so familiar, safe and comfortable – I had no issues with any of it.

During the couple of days I spent at their place, I was recuperating from Amritsar and, feeling a little sick, I didn’t go out almost at all. They fed me delicious home-cooked Punjabi food (too generously), we talked, they taught me some more Hindi/Punjabi, they showed me photos and videos of Lovely’s wedding. And as if that wasn’t enough incredible hospitality already, they even got me a new pair of sandals after my chappals had been stolen at the Golden Temple! I was so moved and I didn’t know how to thank them or refuse or react. They helped me get a new phone as well, and gave me medication for my not-so-happy digestive system and foot rash.

Harvinder was working, so I spent some time alone at home with the girls, mostly in silence, with occasional giggles and smiles, and my trying to get them to share and eat with me, since they always brought me plates of goodies (as the saying goes in India: “Atithi devo bhava”, loosely meaning “the guest is God”). I got to try on the sari version of the clip-on tie (sooo much easier to put on than a regular sari!). I also got to use their internet to Skype with my mum in Canada. She and Harvinder got to see each other in the virtual world and talk a bit also. The conversation went something like this (imagine Harvinder with a thick, sweet Indian accent, and my mum with a just as heavy and lovely Eastern European accent):

Harvinder: “Namaste! How are you? I am here with Alina, your loving daughter!”

Mum: “Yes! I can see that! I’m fine, how are you?”

Harvinder: “Very good. We love your daughter very much. Don’t worry, we are taking good care of her now. She is safe and we love her very much.”

Mum: “Awww, thank you, you are very kind. I miss my daughter also.”

Harvinder: “She misses you too, and I will miss her too when she leaves. You should come visit our home also, with your daughter!”

Mum: “I would love to! One day!”

Laughter ensued. Harvinder gave me a big hug, and my mum was a bit jealous.

Harvinder also Skyped with Simar, her son in Australia, and I was introduced to him. We ended up talking for quite a while and I’m looking forward to visiting him when I will travel there later on.

One pretty awesome thing that happened on my first night there was a wedding party in the streets! Before dinner, we heard some noise outside – drums and singing. And Harvinder called me to the door. There was a procession of people dancing, some musicians playing traditional songs, photographers and people with lights. She told me it was a tradition during the wedding ceremony. The person getting married goes from house to house with family and friends, and there’s dancing and customary rituals being played out. She then asked me if I wanted to go join for a bit. So, naturally, yeah of course!

We approached the crowd, and almost immediately a girl grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me in front of the lights where a few other girls were dancing. So I just joined in and tried to imitate their Punjabi dance moves (I already had some practise with the crowd at Wagah border). I was dressed in my usual hobo-indian-hippie-fusion style, and felt a little self-conscious among the ladies clad in fantastic and sparkly Punjabi suits, but still managed to abandon myself to the ceremony. It was just an incredible feeling to be a part of this. One of those “my own feet and brain have brought me here” happy moments. The women kept asking Harvinder who the white girl was, and when she told them how we met they were incredulous, and she would sometimes add “She is my Canadian daughter!”. But everyone was so friendly and welcoming and smiling.

They would pass around a sort of metal pot to put on the head and walk around with it for a few minutes before passing it on to someone else. I got to try it also. And one of the common traditions in North Indian weddings: twirling a 10 rupee bill around another person’s head (usually the one getting married), for good fortune. That gesture and custom always fascinated me. As I was dancing with the ladies, the older women would twirl the money around the younger girls’ heads (I’m guessing they were bachelorettes), and Harvinder did it to me as well. I almost melted from the sweetness of the gesture. It meant a lot to me coming from her. I also melt whenever someone does the hand-waving gesture that people do to beautiful young girls, to ward away evil. Harvinder also did it to me on my last night. It’s difficult to describe; something like an elegant hand wave with both hands around the girl’s temples. But I would often do it to the lovely ladies I met and it would make them giggle.

The ceremony proceeded to somebody’s house, Harvinder explained it was someone in the family. And they had to give us some treats and drinks. More dancing ensued, I was trying to get Harvinder to come dance with me. I can’t begin to describe how much appreciation I have for this woman I barely knew. Then the procession of people flooded the streets again and continued in this fashion. Harvinder, myself, and part of her family who joined us went back to the house to have dinner.

I would have stayed with the family longer, but I was still really yearning for the mountains and wanted to spend time there before leaving the country. On my last night before parting with Harvinder’s family, we had some incredible conversations about their life, the gurus they follow, the teachings they attended, and their general philosophy of life and God. One thing Harvinder had said among all the compassion and wisdom and incredible stories she had to share was “worship of God is worship of mankind”. And, again, as if it all wasn’t enough, she presented me with a Punjabi suit as a parting gift! I was afraid it would get ruined in my bag, but I ended up carrying it for a couple of weeks and using it at another wedding later on, before sending it back to Canada.

My new family
My new family

The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave, they were all pampering me; they gave me two locks for my bags and more medication. Harvinder was being sweetly overprotective, telling me not to talk to strangers or take food from anyone on trains. But considering how we met, it was still pretty funny to us. She told me to call her every day, or she would call me if I didn’t contact her for a while. Kept asking when I would be back, and to bring my mum too. I took down their address even though she kept insisting I shouldn’t send them anything.

I hugged the girls and hopped on the bike with her husband who would drive me to the bus station. From there I would take a bus to Palampur, near Dharamsala, to stay with my next CouchSurfing host (Mountains! Oh boy oh boy!). As I got on the bike and embraced Harvinder one last time, tears started streaming down her face. “I will miss you, my loving daughter, I love you!” “I will miss my Punjabi mama too!”. I was beyond speechless and so incredibly touched. She is one of the most loving and selfless people I have met in my life.

At the bus station, the husband bought me some bananas for the road, even though I was trying to refuse and pay them myself. We shook hands when I got on the bus, but I could see he was saddened as well.

They really were like family to me. And we talked almost every day after that. I called Harvinder for her birthday, sent postcards and photos, and occasionally I call from other countries now also. And it is always so uplifting to hear their voices. I would love to visit them again one day. I really only wish I could have given back as much generosity as they showed me! But it was time to pay it forward…in Himachal Pradesh.

Our Old Crow Still Flies Perfectly!

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Our Old Crow Still Flies Perfectly!

IF you enjoy tourist destinations that are way off of the beaten path, you’ll adore Old Crow. This community is located in the Northern Territory of the Yukon, and it features traditional First Nations culture that is just so inspiring and meaningful.

However, you’ll need to travel to this community via canoe or aircraft, as these are the only two modes of transport which will be able to deliver you to this out-of-the-way region! Once you’re there, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the Yukon’s “hidden treasures”.

More Fun Facts about Old Crow

In Old Crow, the Vuntut Gwitchin men, women and children (who are a part of Alaska’s Gwich’in Nation) number only 300. They are nicknamed, “the people of the lakes”. These Native people inhabit log cabins and live off the land, like their ancestors before them did, by hunting, trapping and fishing.

Now, let’s look at some of the best ways to enjoy a truly unique adventure while in Old Crow…

View the Northern Lights

If you’re interested in viewing the Northern Lights (also referred to as, “Aurora Borealis”, you should know that Old Crow will be a perfect place to see them! In fact, checking out these amazing “dancing lights” in the night sky at this charming location may just ensure a holiday that you never forget.

Almost any place in Old Crow will be just right for viewing this exciting natural phenomenon, as long as the time is right. Winter is the season when these gorgeous “visions” appears in the evening sky. Old Crow residents and tourists alike marvel at the majestic, pink-and-green lights as they move and shimmer against a glittering backdrop of stars…

In the summer season, there is 24-daylight for three full months!

Request a Wildlife Tour

When you’re visiting Old Crow, you may also request wildlife tours from the community’s members. If so, they may lead you to beautiful caribou (and any other local species!) and/or assist you in enjoying a little bird-watching while you’re in the area.

Caribou are the primary food source of Old Crow’s people. While staying in Old Crow (plan your trip in advance in order to ensure that you find appropriate accommodations and amenities), you may just be invited to attend a traditional feast which will allow you to sample Old Crow Caribou. These feasts are frequently accompanied by a night of joyous Native dancing and fiddling.

In addition to viewing the Northern lights in winter and seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, you may also enjoy snow/ski sports while in the region. From ski-doo riding to snowshoeing to cross country skiing, you’ll find that the snow-covered terrain of Old Crow is nothing short of magnificent.

Now that you know more about this “secret” Yukon community, you may find that it’s worth flying in (or canoeing in) in order to experience all that it has to offer. If you do, you’ll join a select group of tourists who have been lucky enough to experience the traditional life of the “people of the lakes”, up close and personal.

Dispelling myths about mental illness

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Dispelling myths about mental illness

IT was a crisp day in May, snowflakes gently flying in the breeze. At the bus stop, a woman wearing a colourful toque to conceal her balding head wondered aloud whether summer would ever arrive. The woman let out a deep cough that seemed to arise from a deathly monster within her. She was going through her third chemotherapy session, and silently wondered whether she would make it through summer, assuming it did arrive.

The several others waiting for the bus stood a distance from her. As the bus pulled up, someone lashed out at her weak body to the cheers of the group. “Get lost, sick lady!” they exclaimed to her as they filed past her slumped on the ground. As the bus pulled away without her, someone announced they had the episode on video and would post it to YouTube for everyone’s amusement.

Imagine if we treated everyone with compromised health the way we treat those with mental-health challenges. The above story did not happen. The following, however, certainly did:

I was driving to my favourite biking trails with the radio on, listening to the story of the man who harmed himself with a knife on the Today Show’s Rockefeller Plaza set on June 6. The broadcaster explained how the man was tackled to the ground to cheers from the crowd. He then went on to exclaim that in any event with a crowd, there is guaranteed to be at least one stupid person. He expressed his worry that here was a stupid person who pulled a really stupid move.

These comments shocked me, and show complete ignorance of the rising incidence of mental illness. The fact of the matter is that one in five Canadians suffers from some form of mental illness. Compare this to the two or three per cent prevalence of cancer, or five per cent prevalence of heart disease.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the economic cost of mental illness is in excess of $50 billion annually, yet well over half of the people struggling with their mental health fail to receive the health services they need. One of the major barriers for getting treatment is this stigma, which is propagated by such comments as the one made by the broadcaster, as well as a lack of knowledge on mental health issues. This worsens the issue, and I worry how many people struggling with their mental health heard the commentator.

At some point in his or her lifetime, everyone will experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, emotional distress or disconnection from things. Mental illness occurs when a person’s ability to function over a long period of time is affected. Depending on the illness, it can disturb the sufferer’s thinking, mood or behaviour, and it can either have no obvious triggers, or can be set off by life events that we all find difficult: the loss of a job, a death, a romantic breakup or a loss of physical health to name a few.

Self harm or suicide can arise from some form of mental illness. It’s not a sign of weakness or stupidity, but rather an intense internal pain that manifests itself in physical form. Twenty-five per cent of deaths among youth are due to suicide, and this number increases dramatically in aboriginal populations. Of the 4,000 Canadians who die by suicide each year, most were confronting a mental-health problem. As with physical illnesses, development of a mental illness depends on a complex array of factors including genetics, physiology, environment and personal experiences, and therefore cannot be judged, as it is impossible to know another’s experience.

Mental illness does not mean the affected are “stupid” or less “mentally tough” – quite the contrary. I was a hiking guide for the wilderness therapy program of Simon Fraser University’s Students for Mental Wellness, a club started by my friends, and some of the most courageous people I’ve met are those that have struggled with their mental wellness. Similarly, here in Pelly Crossing, there is a high prevalence of mental illness due to the horrific experiences many of the people here have endured. This originates from the abuse suffered in residential schools, and the intergenerational cycle of social woes created by the obliteration of their language and culture. Knowing their stories sheds light on how mental illness including addictions can progress, and the incredible strength of character they demonstrate through their hardship and recovery.

My vision for the future is that opening dialogue on mental illness will increase knowledge and awareness, and that a corollary of that will be an eradication of the stigma that is held in our society, which is not only a roadblock to treatment, but also a factor that exacerbates this issue, one that either directly or indirectly affects us all.

Melanie Hackett was recreation director for Selkirk First Nation, Pelly Crossing.

Larger than Life by Melanie Hackett

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The devastating beauty of the North. Photo by Melanie Hackett

YOU only need to set foot in the Yukon for a split second before it becomes clear why the territory’s motto is “Larger Than Life.”

Home to 14 First Nations groups and some 30,000 people — as well as the backdrop of Canada’s highest mountain and some of the largest and most isolated National Parks — the Yukon is one of the least densely populated places left on earth.

Imagine taking one tenth the population of Victoria and spreading it out over an area that is geographically larger than California, and is unadulterated and pristine wilderness.

Most of the population resides in the territory’s capital of Whitehorse. I, on the other hand, live in a self-governed Northern Tutchone First Nation community of 300, several hours north of Whitehorse. Of the seven billion people living on our planet, only about four million of them can claim that they live further north than we do here.

I am a graduate from SFU’s Kinesiology program, and the Recreation Director for the community of Pelly Crossing, which is located in the traditional territory that the Selkirk First Nation has been inhabiting for many thousands of years, passing on knowledge of survival in the below 50 Celsius winters from one generation to the next.

In my time here, I’ve had many larger-than-life experiences, and have also faced the sharp paradoxes of the Yukon: there is a contrast between the awe-inspiring experiences that teach you how tiny yet connected to everything you are, and the harsh reality of life in the north.

One of the most amazing northern experiences has been to watch the aurora borealis dancing overhead in electric purples and greens as the particles from the sun interact with the oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere, respectively.

One particular November night, it was nearly -50 Celsius. I ran out with two of my friends to watch a huge swan dance into a soaring eagle, a daffodil and finally an angel that raced across the star-filled sky — a sky that was so clear by now that I spotted the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away. By contrast, in the summer, it’s chilling to lie in the sunlit tent nestled in the jagged mountains at two in the morning, listening to the eerie call of the wolves. The ground cover consists of strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, and more. By autumn the hills are on fire with the changing leaves, as hundreds of thousands of cranes, swans, geese, and other birds migrate south. I saw bears, lynx, foxes, porcupines, Dall sheep, wolves, moose and elk.

Yet even with more beauty than imaginable, the people here have suffered greatly. From the sudden colonization that occurred after the Klondike Gold Rush, to the end of the steamboat days when the Klondike highway was built, which forced Selkirk people to relocate, to the despicable residential school era that forced children away from their hunting gathering culture, westernized them and spat them back to families they could no longer understand, there is a lot of trauma left in our community.

It is a generational cycle, one lacking parenting as a result of being taken from their own families; there is a generational gap: the elders living here grew up living off the land, and their grandchildren grew up playing video games. It is a suppression of their language, traditions, and culture, and it is a cycle of substance abuse that leads to many more downward spirals.

There is no purpose in sugar-coating it. Children steal money off their parents in order to feed their drug habit — after all, their parents are attempting the same thing, sometimes stealing off their children who work part-time student jobs.

Being part of the Yukon EMS ambulance team, I know that over 50 per cent of our calls are alcohol related. Beginning in February, it is the sunniest place in the country, but don’t let it fool you. There have been several instances this year of teenagers that have passed out drunk and froze to death in the -40 temperatures.

Even if sober it can be a dangerous place. If your car breaks down on an isolated strip of highway, it could be an extremely long and dangerously cold wait, as there is no cell reception. Although difficult to deal with, these issues and history make the discrimination against me — as one of the only “white” people here — more understandable.

I have a friend here who was violently raped as a teenager. She got pregnant, and alcohol and drugs were the only method to temporarily wipe out her horrifying experience, so her child was born with severe fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This substance abuse however, increased her vulnerability to being raped again.

Eventually, two kids later, she found herself lying in the street close to death. She finally called for help and was flown to Vancouver, where a specialized surgeon reconstructed her slashed wrists. Relocated from her home and with no money or support system, she had nowhere to go. She ended up like many of the people in Vancouver’s downtown eastside.

How many of us look from the bus window at that corner and judge the people there for “wasting their lives?” How many of us ignorantly tell kids ogling from the car that that’s where they’ll end up if they make stupid choices? In the best case scenario, we simply don’t give them much thought.

My friend was one of those people — the ones standing on the corner, serving as a lesson of deterrence to children, on the receiving end of our pity. Today, she is one of the most inspiring “Larger Than Life” characters I have ever met: hardworking, outgoing, and humorous, she is not afraid to share her story.

Sometimes the incredible beauty surrounding us brings even more pain as we try to comprehend the horrors that occurred in such a pristine place; likewise, it is difficult to comprehend how a simple mistake, such as forgetting your lock antifreeze inside in the dead of winter, could lead to death by such an aesthetic place.

But the things that bring healing to the community are activities that restore their culture and focus on nature.

One successful program was a native dancing program for school kids. When the children performed for their elders, the community was transformed. Tears of joy, pain and healing flowed down the faces of elders as they got up from the audience and danced with their youth, bridging that generational gap to finally connect with them.

The stone-faced youth that were so preoccupied with finding their next joint became energetic with smiles after only three days in the wilderness, where they were learning to ice fish, make fire, shoot arrows, make snares and listen to traditional legends.

It will take time — it may take a few more generations — but if any people can overcome such struggles, the Larger Than Life community of Selkirk people will.

These are the people most connected to the land, and they instinctively realize what an integral role it plays in the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of a person. If we are to deal with all of the contemporary issues we’re faced with, we need to listen to the lessons of their stories and culture.

One thing I know for certain is that if there is any place on earth that is larger than life, in both the natural environment and in the character of its inhabitants, it most certainly is the Yukon.

Words and pictures by Melanie Hackett

(Melanie Hackett was recreation director for Selkirk First Nation. She lived in Pelly Crossing for more than a year.)