The Alaska Highway is famous for its quick construction in WWII through vast swaths of uninterrupted wilderness. But of course the history of the place and the people who inhabit it is much older than the 1940s. To get a richer understanding of the area make a few stops in towns on the road to learn about First Nations along the Alaska Highway.
This doesn’t cover all the indigenous communities in the area or all the opportunities to learn about the local culture. Any of these stops makes a good starting place.
The inland Tlingit people of Teslin migrated inland from the coast of southeast Alaska about 200 years ago. They settled on the shores of Teslin Lake. The heritage centre also sits on the shore of Teslin Lake and has beautiful views of the area. Visit the gallery in the main building to see a collection of modern and traditional Tlingit art. The center also hosts cultural demonstrations and has a traditional fish camp built by the lake’s edge.
There are several places to learn about First Nations culture in Whitehorse. Yukon’s first museum, the MacBride Museum, has more than 40,000 objects and showcases exhibits on natural history, the Klondike Gold Rush, and Yukon First Nations.
Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre is housed in a striking cedar building on the shore of the Yukon River next to the public library. The centre is a place to learn about First Nations history, traditions, and culture through rotating and permanent exhibits. During the summer the centre has artists in residence who demonstrate their art form and work on a piece for the museum.
Haines Junction is home to the Da Ku Cultural Centre. No admission is charged for visiting Da Ku, which celebrates the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people. The centre has a variety of exhibits and guided tours during the summer months.
Navigate to the Kluane Museum of Natural History in the small community of Burwash Landing by looking for the world’s largest gold pan. The museum has a variety of displays depicting animals in their natural habitat and gemstones found in the Yukon. It also houses a collection of clothing, tools, and weapons used by the southern Tutchone people.
Visiting one or all of these centers is a fun and important step in understanding the history and culture of the First Nations people who lived along the Alaska Highway.