Chapter 4 – Yukon First Nations’ Relationship with Newcomers

Big-Game Provisioning and Sport Hunting

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, big-game hunting[1] was the main method by which Indigenous people and newcomers alike acquired meat and animal by-products, necessary for survival in the subarctic. There was an abundance of big game, such as moose and caribou; in fact, “meat was a substitute for bread, in both Indian and non-Indian homes” (McCandless 1985:44). Many Indigenous people hunted meat both for their own subsistence and to sell to the newcomers who arrived with the fur trade, the whaling industry, and the gold rushes. This was lucrative for them, and many people felt that the resources would never disappear: they believed that there was an unending supply of moose and caribou.

From the 1910s to the 1940s, many big-game and trophy hunters arrived in Yukon. Their goal was to bring home trophies from their hunting expeditions and take part in an “authentic” Yukon experience. To do this, they were required by law to hire guides who would take them on expeditions into the forests of Yukon. These guides were most often, although not always, Indigenous men, who knew the landscape intimately. The guides could also hire a group of assistant guides, wranglers, camp helpers, and cooks to support the expeditions. For a long time, this set-up was ideal for everyone, as it meant that the meat was never wasted. As McCandless writes, “Often it was dried and cached on the spot for winter traplines used by those same men. Thus, the hunting party could serve several purposes: trophies for the hunter, license revenues for the government, wages for the guides and meat for winter trapping” (1985:45). As time went on, non-Indigenous guides began complaining that Indigenous guides were taking their business and were overhunting animals. In response, the Territorial Council changed the hunting laws in 1923 to stop Indigenous people from becoming chief hunting guides. Under the new laws, in order for an Indigenous hunter to become a chief hunting guide, he would have to give up his Indian status (enfranchise), which meant that he would lose medical care and education benefits and his children would also lose their Indian status (McCandless 1985:59). A few men, such as Johnny Johns, who was a Tlingit-Tagish man from Carcross, decided to go ahead and give up their status.[2] Johnny Johns eventually became one of Yukon’s most famous chief guides (Cruikshank 1991:64).


  1. Big-game hunting is defined as the hunting of large wild animals. Trophy hunting is defined as the hunting of wild animals for sport, with parts of the animal used as a trophy and other parts used for food.
  2. Frank Slim, a Southern Tutchone, Tagish, and Tlingit man, also enfranchised so that he could work as a riverboat captain in the 1930s (Dillman 2010:16).

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ECHO: Ethnographic, Cultural and Historical Overview of Yukon's First Peoples by Victoria Elena Castillo, Christine Schreyer, and Tosh Southwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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