In late May 2016 we will begin a 3 month, 2000 mile canoe journey from the source of the Yukon River at Lake Bennett, Canada to its mouth at Emmonak at the Bering Sea, Alaska. Along the entirety of this wilderness expedition is the home of the Athapaskan first nation people who more than 10,000 years ago, crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia settled within Western Canada, Alaska and the Yukon River region. Until recent times these 1st nation communities have relied on the King and Chinook salmon as a way of subsistence living but due to environmental changes and the possibility of over fishing in the Bering Sea the larger salmon are struggling to find their way back, under their biological call to spawn, into the Yukon River and worlds longest Salmon run. The salmon represents a culture and identity to the native communities of Canada and the western Yukon and with their subsistence lifestyle at risk; the ancient culture is at risk with it. As we make our way to them, it is our aim to ground ourselves in their story and landscape as we go.
There are also cultural changes affecting the progression of native languages to the younger generation. In a world where there are 6000 languages, 2000 of them have fewer than 1000 fluent native speakers meaning with each generation, under the pull of modern influences, children are learning less and less about the thread and spirit which holds their culture together – the language. An important component of our journey will be to explore and highlight this significant cultural change but also learn about the resurgence and revitalisation in many of the communities.
The strength that binds these native cultures together is linked to the landscape, the animals, the ancestral knowledge and the spiritual beliefs. The journey from the Yukon’s source to the Bering Sea will be a journey of discovery into what being human means to the “people of the river”.