• Jake

Empowering Yukon Communities: A Historic Article by Lyn Rear


Are Indian people ready for the settlement of land claims or the responsibilities of self-government? Are we ready to manage out businesses and sit on boards to make very important decisions, to manage our lives?


Today, our people have the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, family violence, incarceration and unemployment. The picture of unhealthy communities is evident all across Canada.


Indian people once lived a very independent lifestyle. They took care of their spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental needs; which in turn helped to create a healthy social, economic, cultural, and political society. With the coming of the white-man and the subsequent “colonization” of Indian people, societies were effectively destroyed. This was done by forbidding people to speak their language. Taking away their way of governing, forcing Indian people to live in communities, so they could no longer gather food in the traditional way. Children were to become educated in the white system, which meant taking the child from home and community for 10 months or longer out of the year. With no foundation of family and community it was that much more difficult for Indian people to adapt to the dominant lifestyles of the white-man.


The dominant society continues to impact on the lives of Indian people and their communities because of their ideas of development and progress. In trying to counteract this, Indian people are working towards the settlement of land claims and re-establishment of Indian governments. With this in mind, in 1983, the Yukon Indian Women's Association YIWA, believed that they had to take responsibility over their affairs. They felt as traditional caregivers in their society it was time to put something into place to assist the “rebirth” of Indian communities. YIWA members believed strongly that in rebuilding a community, one must understand first “where we come from”, “what destroyed us as a people”, and “how we are affected by that today”. We firmly believe it must be community based. The expertise is in the community but must be assisted to become functional again. The YIWA instructed it's executive in 1983 to develop a proposal to meet the identified need. Six years later, approval was given for the Yukon First Nations Community Infrastructure Program. YIWA received approximately one million dollars for a two year project from the Canadian Job Strategy-Innovations Program. They also received $99,880.00 from YTG's Community Development Fund.


In December of 1989, Bengie Clethero was hired to work as the Project Manager. Bengie takes direction from the Management Team which includes Linda McDonald, Rosemary Trehearne, Bobbi Smith, and Teslin elder Pearl Keenan. Bev Sembsmoen was hired as Project Secretary and Dian Sheldon was hired as a part-time bookkeeper. One of Bengie's first tasks was to create a name for the prject, that would have meaning to Indian people. After consulting with Chief Dixon lutz of Liard indian Band, the Kaska word DENE NETS'EDET'AN, which means to wake up or reawaken, was chosen for our project. As Linda Macdonald, President of YIWA stated, “This name in a few syllables describes the philosophy, the history and the peeling of our project”.


In March1990, eighteen people from around the Yukon graduated from an accredited Training of Trainers Program. This intensive training was offered by the Nechi Institute of Edmonton. Nechi is a center which trains native people to deliver social programs to native communities. Seven of these graduates have been hired to deliver workshops to three pilot communities. These include Burwash, Pelly, and Watson Lake. Elizabeth Asp comes from the Nacho Nyak Dun Band in Mayo. Her mother is Mary Moses and is from the Tetla'Gwichin Nation. Liz has a diploma in diploma in Social Services from Yukon College. One of the benefits Liz brings to the project is her knowledge and belief in the traditional life style.


Wayne Jim is from the Crow Clan of the Southern Tutchone Nation. He originates from Hootchi around the Champagne area. He lives in Whitehorse and is a member of the Kwanlin Dun Band. Wayne has an understanding of lack of services for men and is committed in working toward change. Wayne believes being open-minded, caring, sharing and being able to have fun are important aspects for personal growth.


Esther Dobbs is of the wolf clan and is a Loucheaux from from the Fort McPherson area. Esther previously worked for YTG Health and Human Resources as a Native Placement worker. Esther has a Life Skills Training Center. Our communities will benefit from Esther's self=confidence, strong presentation skills and good sense of humor.


Ann Bayne belongs to the Wolf Clan of the Kaska Dene Nation. She lives in Whitehorse and previously worked for Northern Affairs Program. First hand knowledge of social issues facing First Nations people is what led Ann to us. Her kind, warm and sensitive personality will be valuable while working with our people.


Sandra Ward is from the Wolf Clan of the Taku River Tlingit Nation. She worked for years with the Yukon Indian Women's Association in Whitehorse. Sandra's dedication to the First Nations people is continuously demonstrated through her willingness to be a volunteer on a professional and personal level. Sandra's strength from her beliefs will be definite asset for Dene Nets'edet'an. Rose Ceasar is from the Kaska Dene Nation and lives in Watson Lake. We are lucky to have Rose come and bring us her wealth of experience. Rose has her certificate as a Life skills coach, and has worked as an addictions counsellor with Health and Human Resources in Watson Lake for the past 11 years. Her sense of humor and knowledge will be a definite asset for the community she will be working in.


Rosemary Couch is from the Crow Clan and is of the Kaska Dene Nation. Rosemary Lives in Whitehorse and worked for Kwanlin Dun For the past 16 months in the Crime Prevention area as a public relations workers. Prior to that she worked with Kwanlin Dun Police as an officer assistant worker. Rosemary has a strong sense of understanding community dynamics. She works well with people and understands the importance of culture and tradition.


Dene Nets'edet'an Community training will be based on the self-care plan, the balancing of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being of participants. To learn where we come from is very important to Indian people. Workshops and information of Yukon culture and doing family trees is an example of what the trainers will be offering to the three pilot communities. The wheel of life, communication skills, building self-esteem, social skills, development, healing aspects and personal growth, dealing with shame/guilt, grieving/loss, separation/abandonment, assertiveness training, anger management and parenting skills are some of the suggested topics. We will then be looking at more intense workshops such as addiction awareness, adult children of alcoholics (ACOA), family systems, mission school syndrome, sexual abuse, family violence and others. Workshops will depend on identified community needs.


Dene Nets'edet'an is an innovations program of self-challenge, leading to the development of community support group interested in pursuing personal and/or community development. The process of “healing” within a community must come from the people. Therefore, the people of the community must be “empowered” to look at themselves and their community problem, define them, and then work towards solutions. Your contribution and/or participation in the workshops in your community can be the first step.


By Lynn Rear

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