Canada’s Yukon Territory is home to 14 Yukon First Nations and eight language groups. The Northwest Territories and British Columbia’s Indigenous groups have traditional territory in Yukon, and, according to the government of Yukon, approximately 25 percent of the area’s population are Indigenous Peoples.
For visitors to Yukon, or its capital city of Whitehorse, learning and experiencing the Indigenous culture of the area is a rich and rewarding experience. Today, the area offers numerous opportunities to learn about the history and contributions of Yukon’s First Nations People and the experiences are not ones to be missed.
Even better, it’s easier than ever to have adventures and experiences that celebrate the diverse cultures of the Yukon. Besides the Long Ago People’s Place, I recently had the chance to experience Indigenous culture near Whitehorse during a sponsored trip to the Yukon.
For a truly impactful visit, here are seven authentic Indigenous experiences and tours everyone should seek out near Whitehorse, Yukon.
1. The MacBride Museum
A perfect “first stop” in Whitehorse to learn about the city, the history of the Yukon Gold Rush and its Indigenous people is at the downtown MacBride Museum. Recently named “The Most Underrated Attraction” by MSN Travel Canada, this recently expanded museum has a thoroughly curated collection and history of the First Nations People who lived, hunted, and helped create this area.
Over 40,000 objects in the MacBride galleries illustrate stories from Yukon First Nations, the natural world, the Klondike Gold Rush, and more. The First Nations Gallery especially focuses on the 14 First Nations in the Yukon and explores their history from prehistoric times with some truly outstanding artwork and artifacts.
Pro Tip: If you visit Whitehorse in June, don’t miss the celebrations during National Indigenous Peoples Day, especially the multi-day Adäka Cultural Festival on the Whitehorse waterfront.
2. Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre
Travel far back in time at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre to the Ice Age and earlier when the Bering Strait Land Bridge created the ancient land of Beringia. Today, the museum offers presentations and preservation of the First Nations and the unique Ice Age history of the area.
Learn about the science and history of the once-vast subcontinent of Beringia and how its First Nations People came to populate the land. You can also learn about how the center’s programs and services are helping build community in Whitehorse.
3. Long Ago Peoples Place
One of my favorite experiences of my visit, the Long Ago Peoples Place is located about an hour west of Whitehorse. It is a recreated traditional Southern Tutchone First Nations camp that celebrates culture, structures, and tools through hands-on exploration and programming.
Even if you have a half-day to spend, meeting Meta Williams, one of the co-founders of this unique authentic camp, is worth the trip just to learn her knowledge.
Visitors can take medicinal plant walks, learn about traditional living, engage in workshops like a drum-making class, help collect edible plants, and catch a glimpse of the traditional ways of the Southern Tutchone First Nations People.
Williams herself is a treasure to meet. A Yukon First Nations member with family ties to several Yukon First Nations communities, she and Harold Johnson started Long Ago Peoples Place more than 25 years ago as a way to share their stories, culture, and skills with others in order to break down barriers.
4. Fort Selkirk Weekend Tour
New in 2023 is the Fort Selkirk Weekend Tour with Teri-Lee of Tutchone Tours. While Teri-Lee has hosted Yukon River cruises from Minto to historic Fort Selkirk, we were the first group to experience her weekend camping tour.
In addition to learning about Fort Selkirk and its role in Yukon history, we camped in large canvas tents and spent the days with Teri-Lee to learn about the history and culture of the First Nations. The canvas tents all come with platform beds and a cast-iron stove to keep the chill of night at bay.
Teri-Lee led us in an Indigenous beading class, cooked up samples of First Nations cuisine, helped us forage for tangy little soapberries to make “soapberry ice cream,” collected sap for more spruce salve, and shared the songs and stories from her people around the campfire at night.
Daily boat tours gave us the chance to experience travel on the Yukon River to spot wildlife like Dall sheep and moose. A thorough tour of the amazingly preserved Fort Selkirk Historic Site rounded out the weekend.
Pro Tip: Tutchone Tours also offers day trips to Fort Selkirk. This tour includes an hour-long river boat ride to Fort Selkirk, where Teri-Lee expertly guides you through the restored buildings of the area. The tours leave from Minto, a historic abandoned village along the Klondike Highway, so budget about 2 hours to drive there from Whitehorse.
Dotted with emerald-colored, glacier-fed lakes and home to the smallest desert in the world, Carcross is also rich with Indigenous art and culture, and that culture is highlighted at Haa Shagóon Hídi Learning Centre, which translates to “Our Ancestors’ House.” This museum/community center is easy to spot by its eight towering totem poles out front, but the center also delves into the history, art, and traditions that make up Carcross.
Carcross itself is a fun and interesting little city, home to the oldest hotel in the territory, the only one-way street in the Yukon, and the Yukon’s strongest bridge.
Downtown Carcross Commons has turned into a community hub of artisan shops, but the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railway and Matthew General Store — the oldest in the Yukon — are also ways to enjoy an afternoon here.
6. The Kluane National Park And Reserve Visitor Centre
No visit to the Yukon is complete without seeing Kluane National Park and Reserve. It’s home to the sprawling St. Elias Mountains, the largest non-polar icefield in the world, and Mount Logan — the highest peak in Canada.
Learn about the park and its geology, but also its First Nations People, at the park’s two visitor centers. The Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre is located in the Da Kų Cultural Centre in Haines Junction. It has an impressive collection of audio recordings of traditional stories told by First Nation elders.
The Thechàl Dhâl’ Visitor Centre, located an hour north of Haines Junction, was developed in close collaboration with local First Nations and includes exhibits on the people who learned to live on this sometimes-harsh yet beautiful land. The exhibits also show off original beadwork created by the artisans of the Kluane.
Pro Tip: The only way to see the vast icefields and Mount Logan is by air, and the park offers several flightseeing tours, like Rocking Star Adventures.
7. Support Indigenous Artists
Exquisite beadwork, handcrafted leather goods, thoughtful paintings, astonishing carvings, and more by Indigenous artists can be enjoyed and found throughout the Yukon. In Whitehorse, you can browse and purchase these First Nations art pieces at numerous stores.
North End Gallery, for instance, carries and showcases Indigenous arts and crafts, but also other artwork unique to the Yukon.
The Northern Cultural Expressions Society Carving Studio and Gallery has items ranging from crafted jewelry and beaded moccasins to magnets, t-shirts, and prints. In Carcross, stop by the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Carving Centre to watch traditional carvers at work.
Pro Tip: Indigenous Yukon has a long list of various places to purchase art and crafts that support Indigenous artists.