Leslie Williamson, Wolf Clan
This picture of me was taken in the Yukon, while I was on my way to visit family in Old Crow.
Old Crow is a tiny community about 200km south of the Beaufort Sea and about the same distance southwest of Inuvik. I have spent much of my adult life tracing my roots and exploring the rich cultural heritage that hail from this remote community. I have also witnessed firsthand the legacy of colonization that has deeply affected future generations, including my own.
My mom grew up in Old Crow, before she was taken from her family at age 6 to spend ten years in the residential school in Dawson City.
This picture was taken at the visitor’s center in Carcross, YT, where bus passengers touring the area can have their photo taken wearing traditional native regalia or Klondike clothing—worn by non-natives during the Gold Rush that took place in the Yukon before my mother was born. The photographer asked me, “are you Wolf or Crow?” In the Yukon, native people belong to one of these two clans and are proudly identified by it. “Wolf, definitely.”
Reflecting on this fun and joyful event, I began to explore more of what this photo represents to me and my family. I discovered many teachings that keep individuals on a path of honour and respect for self and others within the clan protocol, and decided to share these, and some of my family heritage, with you.
Once when my sister and I were in Carcross passing through on our way to Old Crow Yukon, we happened to be there during a potlatch. This time it was the Wolf Clan serving the feast to the Crow Clan. While we were all in the kitchen busy preparing food and talking among ourselves, an Elder came into the kitchen and reminded us to be careful of what we spoke and the words that we chose. She reminded us that we were serving the Crow Clan, and only good feelings (vibrations) were to be in our conversation and in our hearts. It was important, she said, to keep the offering of food charged with healing energy and filled with love for others. I loved that she had reminded us of this. It wasn’t that she heard anything that disappointed her, but it was her role as a clan mother to remind us to mind our minds, and mind our hearts. This is one example of how our clan mothers remind us to stay on course and keep our hearts and minds pure and free of gossip or negativity.
My mother’s lineage has brought me much pride and beauty. As I learn more about this rich culture, I realize the Nonviolent Communication skills I teach are a modern interpretation of our powerful teachings from long ago. Traditions of respectful communication was how we kept peace and harmony within our communities. Our elders understood and taught that, “When I hurt you, I hurt me because we are all one.”
Did You Know . . . ?
Here are some interesting facts about the clan system in the Yukon:
- There are two main groups of people in each Yukon First Nation. Yukon First Nations often refer to these two kinship groups as clans.
- Today the clans in the Yukon are called Wolf and Crow.
- The Yukon clan system is matrilineal, meaning children belong to the clan of their mother. For example, children born to mothers from the Crow Clan belong to the Crow Clan; those born to mothers from the Wolf Clan belong to the Wolf Clan. All children inherit their mother’s clan name, crests, stories, songs and dances.
- All the people in the Wolf Clan consider each other kin. All people in the Crow Clan do the same.
Each clan has responsibilities to the opposite clan. When First Nations people know which clan they belong to, it helps them to understand these responsibilities.
- Each of the groups has a clan crest. The crests are like flags that are owned by each group.
- There are findings that show the First Nations in the Yukon have been there for over 30.000 years. The roots to the clans and culture run deep to this day. Potlatch events and ceremony remain practices that are followed according to the clan mother’s decisions. At a potlatch ceremony Indian names are given, give away ceremonies take place, a big feast is offered and the non-hosting clan would be invited. A headstone might be placed with a celebration of life usually in a year after someone has passed to the spirit world.