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Home  >  Digital Archives  >  People of the North  >  Native Peoples
The Han Athabascans
By Jason Wenger and Tricia Brown Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

In Alaska, the Han people were the first recorded inhabitants of the region surrounding the easternmost stretch of the Yukon River. An Athabascan group, the Han survived the harsh winters of the east-central Interior as hunters, trappers, and fishermen. In the 19th century, white trappers began exploring the remote areas of the Yukon River, and the Han were among the first to barter furs and supplies with the foreigners. When gold was discovered in Fortymile Country and later in the Klondike, the trading posts at Eagle and Eagle Village became a crucial hub for communication and trade goods.

In Alaska, the gold rushes created a growing diverse community of Natives, miners, and soldiers that survived cultural diversity and the elements to build the first civil government of the Interior. However, the Native Alaskans and, eastward, the First Nations people of the Yukon suffered tremendous fallout as their centuries-old cultures adapted to the crush of foreign influences, good and bad.

When the stampede to the Klondike began, missionaries with the Presbyterian Church, including the Rev. S. Hall Young, who had been laboring in Juneau, hurried to Dawson City to proselytize the miners and local Native population. With the arrival of Canadian missionaries, the Americans realized that the Klondike was not part of Alaska and retreated over the border to Alaskan soil. The first meeting of the Yukon Presbytery took place at Eagle on July 26, 1899.

The village of Moosehide, Yukon Territory, was a Han reserve established by the government of Canada to protect the Native people from the negative effects of outsiders during the Klondike Gold Rush. It was located about three miles downstream from Dawson City. The name Klondike itself is a corruption of the name of the Han linguistic group in the Dawson area, the Tr'ondek Hwech'in. Its anglicized version was "Klondike." Today the name Tr'ondek Hwech'in is translated as "people of the Klondike River."

The Council of First Nations history reports that, to protect his people's culture, Tr'ondek Hwech'in Chief Isaac "took the songs and dances of his people across the border to the village of Mansfield, Alaska, and entrusted them to the people there, to be returned with the time was right and the Tr'ondek People were ready."

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Gallery of Images
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A Han Athabascan Cabin
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A group of Han people at the Presbyterian Church
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A Han village upriver from Eagle

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