The Łù’à Mǟn (Kluane Lake) effect

The Łù’à Mǟn (Kluane Lake) effect

In 2016, a river stopped flowing. The glacier most of its water came from had melted back and now flowed only into another river system.

A year later, a group of glaciologists published their initial findings about how the river system was effected.

Beyond the geology though, are people and animals with an uncertain future. While I was in the Yukon this summer, I traveled to the Kluane area and spoke with people about what they’d seen and their hopes and concerns for the future.

You can read that work in The Łù’à Mǟn (Kluane Lake) effect.

Spreading the good news

Spreading the good news

(In feature photo: The three winners of the National Indigenous Day Bannock Bake-off)

Hope, strength and resilience aren’t words I have heard in a lot of reporting on Indigenous peoples of Canada. The stories I hear most often go like this:

  1. An Indigenous nation has a dire problem (drinking water, suicide crisis, flood plains, etc). The federal government refuses to help. Problem is getting worse.
  2. The federal government is backing a company in their fight to extract resources from the land. Indigenous people protest and police get involved. The company still gets to extract resources.

These stories frame Indigenous people as hapless victims, unable to care for themselves or generally being a nuisance to both private and public sectors.

Stories North doesn’t tell those kinds of narratives. There was no agreement—we didn’t decide this was something we wouldn’t do. It’s just that’s not how we saw the people we met. The Indigenous people who spoke with our class were not helpless, they weren’t weak and they weren’t necessarily opposed to big business or the government, although most are passionate about protecting the land for future generations.

The people we met were incredibly strong—many had been through some hellish experiences, some of which Canadians are beginning to get familiar with through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, among other initiatives.

HAROLD (1 of 1)
Harold Johnson of the Long Ago People’s Place, telling us about Champagne First Nation traditions.

Yet, while many shared those experiences, our stories were shaped more by the work they are doing now to heal themselves and their communities. They are forward-thinking leaders, doing the good work that needs to be done for a better future.

Sometimes journalists look down on the “good-news story” for not being serious and important enough. The public does too—see the comments on any good-news story (or don’t, if you value your sanity) and some person is quick to comment that it “must have been a slow news day.”

But the importance of reporting on good-news stories that feature Indigenous people is that they allow the public to have a frame of reference beyond victimhood and civil disobedience. Protests and public crises should be covered—of course—but when many Canadians only see these communities, they don’t know about the incredible things that are happening.

Shauna Yeomans is a land guardian for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. She helps test the land to make sure projects like the hydroelectric plant aren’t negatively affecting the environment.

As I move forward past this course, I am committed to doing three things to try and combat this narrative of despair:

  1. I want to know more about the people whose lands I live on. I’ve been lucky to get to know what’s happening in some of the First Nations of the Yukon and I’m very grateful to those who have shared. There’s no reason for me not to be talking with people at home. I know I live on unceded Algonquin Territory, but that’s not enough.
  2. I am going to share those stories. I am not currently employed as a journalist, but I have a sphere of influence: friends, family, Instagram followers. You never know who you’re going to touch and social media makes it easier to share what you learn.
  3. I’m going to try and stop feeling bad about preferring to tell good-news stories. I like soft news and if my master’s degree has taught me anything, it’s that most journalists don’t have a lot of respect for that kind of reporting. Yet, this course has taught me that these stories can be important and have the potential to change the way we think about each other. We could all stand to be a little kinder.

I arrived in this class aware of the history of Indigenous people. I’m not all-knowing, but I knew more than the basic pre-contact history taught at school.

As Harold Gatensby shared his residential school story and his outlook on the meaning of life, we burned pieces of one of the residential schools he attended in Carcross.

From the first day of Stories North, when we did a blanket exercise led by two young, strong, First Nations women, I have felt that I need to take my disgust with the way things have gone in the past and turn into something more productive.

What was missing from my education was hope and my own ability to help spread that hope. This class has not only taught me to look for the good, but has tasked me with the responsibility of sharing it.

Here’s to a bright, bright future.

Brave women

Brave women

“What’s your favourite colour?” I would ask my parents. “Your favourite animal? Your favourite car?”

At first they would humour me, but there came a point when enough was enough and they’d tell me they didn’t have favourites.

This was incomprehensible to four-year-old me. There must be favourites, there must be best and most-liked.

As I’ve got older though, I’ve come to side with their reticence. Picking favourites is like a declaration of allegiance. I’ve chosen one thing and therefore not chosen others. Maybe red is only my favourite colour of clothing, but for the walls of my apartment, I want something different.

When I’m asked about more complex things, I’m amazed at how people can choose one thing when I see an array of options that can are significantly different. A favourite place I’ve been. The most influential person in my life. The one and only career I must do until I retire or die. How on earth can there only be one?

So to talk about who has been most formative on this Stories North trip is a little difficult and I hope it’s not hedging to acknowledge that I don’t think any one person qualifies. It’s like focusing in on a small part of an 18th-century Grotesque painting. You’re seeing something incredible, but you’re kind of missing the larger picture.


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I’d bought a book on prostitutes of the Klondike gold rush, picked up pamphlets about Kluane Lake and Atlin, B.C., and bought some jam as gifts for friends back home. Now I was trying to fit that all in my bag with my camera, lenses, mics, phone chargers and other equipment.

My bag was open on the seat of a bench outside the Dawson City Visitor Information Centre as I drew on my Tetris skills to make it all fit. The sun was shining, which was a nice turn from the beautiful, but damp misty morning we’d had earlier in the day.

I smiled up at a woman who stood nearby with her big grey dog.

“Do you know if we need tickets for the tour starting soon?” she asked.

“Yeah, but they’re free,” I said, holding up my “Golden Ticket.”

She handed me the leash of her dog. “She seems nice,” she said to the dog.  Then, to me, “This is Vincent. Can you hold him a minute while I go inside and get a ticket?’

I nodded and she went inside. I was left with Vincent, who seemed calm about the situation. I couldn’t even remember her face, except that it was kind.

I finished up packing my bag and sat with the dog while we waited for her return. No one looked at us or seemed to think it was strange that I had a dog. They probably thought he was my dog. Or that I knew her. Or I just blended into the hordes of tourists and no one paid any attention at all.

As soon as we started the tour the sunny day turned into a downpour. We huddled under a tent to listen to Parks Canada employees dressed up as famous Klondike figures tell stories of the gold rush.

We got umbrellas and I put up my raincoat hood and Vincent got very wet as he wasn’t allowed into the historical buildings. Between each building, I chatted with the owner as we walked down the boarded sidewalks with the pack of other tourists.

She was on a kayak trip, alone with her dog, stopping at historical places and camping out in the woods. She’d been to places only accessible by water and stayed in abandoned trappers’ cabins. I asked her if I could take her and Vincent’s photo later and she said yes.

At the end of the tour, I stopped to talk to the guide and lost her. She must have told me her name, but I can’t remember it for the life of me.

Brave, smart women have always impressed me. As someone who loves history and wanted to see the places she’d read about was bound to make me pause and think. It was like meeting someone you wish you were.

The Yukon wilderness is vast; it’s monumental. It feels too big to be surmounted by a woman in kayak with a dog. There are bears. She could drown. She could get lost and maybe no one would find her.

There are always reasons not to go, reasons not to do the things that scare you. But if they excite you and call to you, maybe it’s best to follow through. She certainly seemed no worse for wear. Even after being out on the river for weeks, she had friendliness for me and plenty of questions for our tour guides.

I’m nearly finished my third, and final (hopefully) degree. The future lays open with possibilities and it’s like looking up at a beautiful mountain of terror. But maybe there’s a way to navigate through and a friend to share the adventure with.

The great bannock bake-off

The great bannock bake-off

On National Indigenous Day—the first to be a statutory holiday in the Yukon—there was a bannock bake-off in a tent behind the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

Two of the students from Stories North participated in the challenge against several Indigenous women and one Indigenous man.

Click through the gallery to see how it went.

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The Healing Totem

The Healing Totem

“Every time, there’s not enough chips,” said Wayne Price, master carver of the Healing Totem Project at the opening ceremonies of Whitehorse’s first National Indigenous Day as a statutory holiday.

The crowd gathered around the totem pole that Price and a group of about 20 carvers created in 2013. Price said each chip represents one person. The chips were ceremonially burned and a portion of the ashes is inside the totem pole.

Community members carried the pole seven blocks through Whitehorse to of Main Street. It serves as a reminder of hope for the future.

The Quebecois

The Quebecois

I’m working on a photo series about Quebecois identity. What does it mean for each of my subjects to be Quebecois in their everyday lives?

For the purposes of the project, I’m using the definition of “Quebecois” identity loosely and letting my subjects define it for themselves: Must they be Francophone? (No.) Born in Quebec? (Not necessarily).  But some are Francophone, born in Quebec or both.

More photos to be added as the project continues. If you are interesed in being photographed for this project, send me a message.

The promise of a teaching career

For more than a decade, job market predictors have said there is about to be a mass retirement in Ontario with a teacher shortage and a dire need for new, young teachers.

As they wait for this to materialize, passionate, qualified teachers fight to get the few available full-time positions. Some make it and some don’t.

Here’s what it’s like to fight for the job you want in an incredibly tight market:

The man behind Ottawa’s Vietnamese community

A lab accident in the late 1960s changed a young man’s career plans, his life and eventually the city of Ottawa.

Can Le has a quick smile and exudes energy as he shows a visitor around. The retired economist and president of the board of directors of the Vietnamese Canadian Centre on Somerset Street has spent the past 40 years growing and nurturing the Vietnamese community in Ottawa.

“He’s a determined one,” says Ha Quyen Nguyen, volunteer coordinator for the centre. “For everything he plans to do, he will go until the end.”

When Le arrived in Ottawa, there were few people here of Southeast Asian descent. Today, about 9,000 people of Vietnamese origin live in the city. Most have him to thank for the support systems that have allowed their community to thrive. And Ottawa, which continues its tradition of taking in refugees right up to the present day, owes some of its welcoming mindset to Can Le’s work.

Liem Duong, a software engineer for the Department of National Defence who has known Le since 1983, says he is known across Canada “from Vancouver to Halifax.” But “if you ask him, he won’t say much about himself.”

So we’ll tell you about him…

Read the whole story at the Ottawa Citizen:

The Capital Builders: How Can Le shaped Ottawa’s Vietnamese Community