Michelle Dawson Beatie
By Eileen Duchesne
“It is important that our young people be proud of who they are and where they come from. My greatest hope is that I am able to inspire the next generation to embrace the teachings of their grandparents and connect with their roots -- and if I can empower other kids, in my community, to become our newest Champagne cowgirls or cowboys, that would be equally rewarding. ” - Michelle Dawson-Beattie 2019
Being born into two of the largest Yukon First Nation families, Michelle Dawson-Beattie was already well-connected growing up here in the territory -- instilling a strong sense of pride and a positive understanding of her roots. At the same time, as conducting a very busy life with work and all her other duties she has in the community – she manages to build on her own passions and continues a family legacy bestowed upon her, and other members of her family, by her Elders, earning her the title of “Horse Whisper” by some on her Facebook page and others in her community.
Approximately three years ago, Dr. Michelle Oakley, a local veterinarian, who also appears in the TV reality series, “Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet” made a routine visit to check on some family horses. During the visit, a conversation between Dawson-Beattie’s father, Micky Beattie, and Dr. Oakley, brought to light that their current horse-stock would more than likely not exceed this generation. The problem being, the family did not have a stud to breed their existing mares. Any stallions, the family had, were already castrated.
The conversation between Beattie and Oakley, led to a group of wild horses, located across the river from Champagne, approximately 90 km outside of Whitehorse. Beattie shared that the group of horses originated from Dawson-Beattie’s great grandparents -- Great Grandparents Sue and Alex Van Bibber. He explained, if they had the opportunity, they would like to catch one of the horses in hopes of breeding. The discussion did not only cause excitement, among Oakley and her crew, it also set the wheels in motion to have the family’s dream realized.
Within a week, Dawson-Beattie and her father were sent to scout out the horses to see if they could spot potential studs. In the meantime, Oakley and her TV crew arranged a couple of helicopters and the required gear. While a small group of horses could be seen on foot, a chopper ride was necessary to see the other groups and get good visuals.
A few days later, the team assembled. Dr. Oakley was in the first helicopter, with a dart gun and her camera crew was in the second chopper. Dawson-Beattie and Oakley’s husband, Shane, remained on the ground in anticipation. Within 10 minutes, of being off the ground, Oakley messaged that they had got one. “She darted a yearling, from a helicopter, while the horse was running and the chopper was moving, “ said Dawson-Beattie, with excitement in her voice. Even with the time past, since the capture, it could not be missed that this journey was a significant moment in Dawson-Beattie’s life.
The helicopter airlifted the filly back on a long line, secured to a special harness to ensure its safety. “There was literally a horse flying through the air”, said Dawson-Beattie. “There was an Elders’ camp that day,” she added laughingly, “And they were saying, what the heck is going on? It is not everyday you see a horse flying through the air.”
Dawson-Beattie and her father had originally hoped for two stallions, but the first catch was a filly. Oakley indicated they could try one more time, but she could not guarantee it would be a male. The only concern for Dawson-Beattie, at that point, was she did not want the filly to be alone. She was careful to keep the filly separate from the other horses on site. “We needed to calm her down. We were taking her away from everything she had ever known. We were putting her into a fenced in area, with people all around, and she never seen people before.”
The team eventually makes a second attempt and was successful in catching the male hoped for. Dawson- Beattie named them Sue and Alex, after her great grandparents.
“We kept the horses in Champagne. We brought them around the other horses but didn’t integrate them with the other horses for about a year,” said Dawson Beattie.
The plan going forward was to have Alex breed with the existing mares, the family already had. In the meantime, Sue remained separated given her age. They were put together over the winter because mares don’t usually go into heat over the winter.
In late fall, the family took the horses out to hunting camp, at Squirrel Creek. It was Sue’s second year at camp. Alex was left behind because stallions are not typically taken to camp with the mares. “They herd the mares up and push them away from the camp,” explained Dawson- Beattie.
Around the same time, another mare named “Kahlua” was acting strangely. “I could see her acting differently. She was calmer. She was being very careful in the bush. I just knew she had to be pregnant.” Later, Dawson-Beattie and her father were putting a pack-saddle on another horse, named “Babe”. Beattie went to tighten the cinch and the horse turned to give him an uncomfortable look. It was suspected then that they may have a second horse carrying a baby.
About October, Alex had been on his own for a while and the family took gamble to have Alex castrated, before doing the ultrasounds on the mares. “We just needed him to get back with the animals,” Dawson-Beattie explained. “They are a herd-bound animal and they need to be together.”
A week later they performed the pregnancy test on the mares. Two out of three suspected pregnancies came back positive. “The gestation period for horses are about 11 months. It was along time waiting,” Dawson-Beattie said with a grin. “But it was all worth it.”
In June, the first horse gave birth. It was a filly. To pay tribute to the Oakley family (Michelle, Shane and Sierra), for their commitment and hard work in making this dream come to fruition, Dawson-Beattie named the new filly, “Oakley”.
Less than 12 hours later, the second mare went into labor. This time it was a stallion. He was named “Eagle” after the Eagle Gold Mine Project. Since then, Sue and Alex have settled in, with the other horses, and Dawson-Beattie has had a chance to reflect. She suggested if anyone is ever considering this adventure, to make sure they save
their money but, more importantly, do the necessary research. “It’s not cheap,” she said. “Also make sure you have a good vet and plenty of support.”
She also acknowledged her great grandparents and the legacy they left behind for the family and the question begged to be asked: Given all that you and your family has been through, and if you could say one thing to your grandma or your grandparents, what would it be?
“I hope she is proud for what we have done, by knowing that we are continuing this pedigree of horses -- and for her to know, we are still continuing the traditional ways she taught my dad, which he has in-turn been passed on to me.”
“All of this is essentially about my great grandparents. And the traditional skills and knowledge passed on to us. To this day we continue to use their traditional hunting camp – 51 years later,” said Dawson-Beattie. “My dad still remembers the first season and how the camp was started. Squirrel Creek is a place that my whole family has connection to and it remains a place near and dear to our hearts.”
In many ways, being on the horses, out on the land, has helped Dawson-Beattie remain connected to her grandparents. “That is what they did. They ran outfitting camps, forever. They were very much part of land and our traditions.”
Dawson-Beattie could not close off this story without sharing her appreciation for her father. “This was a learning process for the both of us” concluded Dawson-Beattie. We had to compromise on some stuff – like are we breaking he horses the old way, which is his way, or a suggested new way offered by me; but, we worked through it,” Dawson-Beattie said humorously. “In all honesty, this journey could not have happened without him. He is my rock. Without him I would not have this cool life I have.
Michelle’s ancestry is Southern Tutchone, from the Champagne Aishihik First Nation, located in south west Yukon. She is the President of the Yukon First Nation Hockey Association; and she is sits on the Yukon First & Wildlife Management Board; the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee and she services as a member of Yukon Women in Mining.