TERRITORIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This project celebrates some of the historic and current territories of the Tlingit, Tagish, and Southern Tutchone.

This project celebrates some of the historic and current territories of the Tlingit, Tagish, and Southern Tutchone with a number of governments including the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and several Tlingit First Nations spanning Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon. All of these communities and indigenous governments continue to steward their lands and waters with some cooperation from the governments of Canada, the United States, the Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia.

The actual trail and facilities, Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site in British Columbia (with facilities in adjacent south-western Yukon) and Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Alaska is jointly managed by the United States National Park Service and Parks Canada, agencies that are working increasingly closely with these indigenous governments.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: SUPPORT & FUNDING

This ongoing project began as a joint Parks Canada – United States National Park Service artist residency along the campsites of the Chilkoot Trail in June and July of 2019. Initial support was generous: from both parks agencies, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Yukon Arts Council, the Skagway Arts Council. Subsequent work on the creative series begun in 2019 has been also generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts in 2020 and 2021 — with in-kind support and space provided at KEXMIN field station on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

I am especially grateful to the following individuals for their kindness, wisdom, and support:

Daniel Ashley, Niko Helm, Andrée Gaulin, Christine Hedgecock, Nila Helm, Daphne Mennell, and Zena McLean of Parks Canada;

Kari Rain, Al Weber, and Linda Bennett of the United States National Parks Service;

Mary Bradshaw of the Yukon Arts Centre; and

Gabriele Genola of BBC London.

In transforming the drawings, photographs, and notes from the 2019 field season and developing the reflections, videos and designs in 2020 and 2021, two indigenous visual arts residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity were crucial for self-reflection and expanding my digital skills. Just before the COVID-19 lockdown, Nikki Little and Meaghan Byrne of imagineNATIVE (the Toronto-headquartered Centre for Aboriginal Media) lead Mixed Media 101 bringing together a score of artists, interactivity designers and teachers in the winter snows of the Rockies. As well as being deeply grateful to Nikki and Meaghan (and to administrators Reneltta Arluk, Janine Windolph, Allison Yearwood, and Howard Lee), the following members of the Banff media team (having no idea that most would soon be laid off in the pandemic), were superb and compassionate teachers: Aubrey Fernandez, Jennifer Chiasson, Tyler Jordan, Rylaan Gimby, Bojan Cosic, and Court Brinsmead. Roughly a year later, I returned to a very different Banff experience via Zoom followed by an in-person residency ten months later with exceptional guidance and inspiration from three Cree artists, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Becca Tylor, and Tasha Hubbard, along with more video instruction from another superb teacher, Tyler Jordan. I remain in awe of this team of teachers! Thanks to the Slaight Family Foundation for funding my participation in the Banff Centre residencies!

Finally, this project is really about my wonderful mother, Wilma Valeda Brochu-Ingram (1910 – 2009) who was born at French Hill, Granville outside of Dawson. As a daughter of the Klondike, she had no memory having moved with her family to Prince Rupert as a baby. This Chilkoot reflection centres on a complex triangle of my Wilma’s grandmother, her father, and her mother. I have fond memories of my nanna in the 1960s and 1970s but her memories of the Yukon as a young woman were understated and matter of fact. It was my mother’s stories shared with me, and passed down to her from her father (Frank aka Francis), that are at the core of this 2019 return and reflection. Underlying these narratives of overcoming adversity, confronting social injustice, and trying to live well are the bonds of a father and daughter (who lost Frank at nineteen years of age), and between mother and younger son who had over a half century to reflect on Wilma’s life after the Klondike. The weirdness of the recent artistic expressions are mine but the integrity of the stories were Wilma’s.

HÍSW̱ḴE / Huy ch q / máh-sie / Marsee
SENĆOŦEN / Hul’q’umi’num’] / Chinook. / Michif

THANKS!!!

Wilma Valeda Brochu Ingram, July 1981, Hwmet’utsun, Salt Spring Island by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

COLLABORATIVE MAPPING AS CONTEMPORARY ART / COLLABORATIVE ART AS MAPS OF COMMUNITIES

between Canyon City and The Pass, a portion of the adult-centred, collaborative map, created by hikers, on 2019 July 1 at Sheep Camp, Alaska

Any trek or passage requires maps be they notes, stories, word passed along, and, of course, scraps of paper with symbols for directions, routes, landmarks, elevation, unknowns, and more. Less Cartesian forms of these maps are often relegated as “cognitive maps” as in what we hold in our minds rather than what is transcribed on paper by professional map-makers.

pre-school-centred, collaborative map, created by young hikers with the active encouragement of their parents, made on 2019 July 5 at Lindeman City, British Columbia * complete aside from email addresses redacted for privacy

On July 1 and July 5, 2019, we explored do-it-yourself (DIY) map-making on both sides of the international border. On Canada Day in Sheep Camp, Alaska, the adults reflected on the early stops along the river flowing back down to the Pacific. At Lindeman City, British Columbia, on July 5, a group of wise girls from Anchorage, with an average age of perhaps five years, put together a record of what they had seen at both end of the Chilkoot Trail.

adult-centred, collaborative map, created by hikers, on 2019 July 1 at Sheep Camp, Alaska
complete aside from email addresses redacted for privacy

More than most parts of North America, the slicing of the St Elias Range, between Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon centred on a series of heated conversations about map-making, colonial cartographies that pointedly ignored and erased more than 10,000 years of indigenous travel between richly different communities. Therefore, central to the current and future enjoyment of the Chilkoot involves experiencing these landscapes with new maps that do more than just decolonize the imperial lines imposed just six generations ago.

the Finnegan’s Point to Pleasant Camp, Alaska portion of a adult-centred, collaborative map, created by hikers, on 2019 July 1 at Sheep Camp, Alaska
the Sheep Camp, Alaska to Happy Camp, British Columbia, portion of the pre-school-centred, collaborative map, created by hikers, created on 2019 July 5 at Lindeman City, British Columbia

Map-making is a conversation, a collaboration, that reminds us that most artist expression involves the mapping of particular spaces, experiences, and perspectives. These two mapping workshops, under the joint auspices of the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada, functioned to open up the topic of how family stories, including of the Chilkoot, influence what we experience of a landscape. Curiously, we encountered two other individuals who were descendants of men who had travelled the Chilkoot to find some kind of prosperity working in the Klondike gold fields. My grandfather’s experience, as a Canada-born indigenous person, who rose from packing to mining successful claims was somewhat different than those of their ancestors who appear to have made more money in the gold fields, or so they said. All these perspectives were blended and mashed into collaborative mapping (and art-making) no matter how understated are the notations.

the Canyon City, Alaska portion of adult-centred, collaborative map, created by hikers, on 2019 July 1 at Sheep Camp, Alaska

THE POWER OF ANCESTORS & FAMILY STORIES IN EXPERIENCING LAND

This 1897 map, from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, depicts both of the trails used in the Klondike Gold Rush. The Dyea Trail became what is today the Chilkoot Trail whereas the Skaguay Trail was soon the route of the railway.

This project, with the initial 2019 artist residency and workshops on the trail, explores how family stories influence our experiences of landscape and place. On the maternal side of my family, movements of three generations (and now four with me) across the passes of the St. Elias Range took on an almost metaphorical and transformative importance as indigenous people coping with and trying to profit from modern migration, mining, environmental change, capitalism, and activism. As difficult as travel was across the passes, before the 1898 completion of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway connecting Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon (today only extending as far as Carcross, Yukon), these landscapes were far less hazardous for most native people than was much of the rest of the twentieth century while living Canada.

The Klondike Gold Rush for my family was thought to be mostly a very good thing fostering some accumulation of wealth and intercultural conversations as well as inspiring activism — when most indigenous people in the north were still isolated and soon to be further cowed and terrorized by federal agencies. For some indigenous people in Canada, both at the time and these days, the Brochu brothers may have tried too hard to assimilate — even though they were unsuccessful at avoiding mistreatment as native people even when they were relatively prosperous. For most, the Klondike was not much of a land of opportunity for native people and the indigenous landowners of these areas were more often devalued, displaced, and brutalized in the wake of capital, mining, missionaries, and the RCMP. Our family accounts of the St Elias passes and then the Klondike centre on two ancestors who died before I was born but who were close to and influential for my parents:

my maternal grandfather, Francis (“Frank”) Alfonso BROCHU (1870 – 1929) and

his brother, Godfroi BROCHU who lived from 1877 to the late 1940s (with his given name sometimes spelled “Godfroy” and “Godfrey” and with “Godfroi” used because that was the spelling in his signature).

Frank and Godfroi’s branch of the large, Québec-centred Brochu family apparently had a history of travelling west and east across the middle latitudes of what today is Canada. Frank shared a story with his children of being compelled to leave his village south of Québec City after losing an orchard of traditionally owned sugar bush trees. Avoiding the Trans Canada Railway that excluded most native and Métis travellers, Frank and Godfroi worked on ships sailing south from Québec down the coast of Latin America then up to Skagway.

Initially working in Alaska as packers, with numerous other native people from a number of parts of North America, Frank and Godfroi saw the end of hundreds of years of Tlingit traders and packers, who traditionally owned the passes, overwhelmed and pushed aside with human and animal power soon replaced by the train. Arriving relatively early in the Klondike Gold Rush, Frank and Godfroi moved on to the gold fields of Bonanza Creek near Granville forming a community called French Hill. While many of the workers there spoke French, many were native and mixed-race especially in the difficult work of melting the permafrost through cutting the boreal forest to power steam engines to thaw the ice.

Frank and Godfroi consistently asserted a mixed race, native identities, that today would be termed Non-Status Indians and Métis, while somehow having received a bilingual education. On the surface, they were highly assimilated native people. But inside, Frank at least, was seething. Within nascent francophone networks, both indigenous heritages appear to have dominated their networks and business relationships. There was a family tradition of trade and movement across Canada and Frank and Godfroi were proud in being the first to avoid the somewhat racist railways and RCMP, to then work on ships around Cape Horn. In 1910, Frank and his family, including my mother soon after she was born, moved from Granville to Prince Rupert. With French Hill exhausted, Godfroi moved to Dawson, mined other Klondike claims for five years, and then moved with his large family in order to be near his brother later becoming a school teacher. By that time, other members of Frank and Godfroi’s extended relationships were living in the lower Skeena River region. Losing his first born, Alvin François, in the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, Frank was kept from burying his son in the regular Catholic cemetery and subsequently became quite embittered in the last decade of his life especially around the treatment of native people. In the last decade of his life, Frank became exceptionally vocal in eschewing Christianity. Near the end of his life, Godfroi was active in the Boy Scouts one of the few civil society organizations in Canada, at the time, that encouraged participation of native males. After moving to the mouth of the Skeena, Frank asserted indigeneity even further (though he was a long way from his home territory) and every Sunday took his children to visit with Tsimshian elders and children rowing across Prince Rupert Harbour to the island village of Metlakatla.

Frank Brochu with his family in 1917 (clockwise: Frank, Esther, Alvin [just months before he died in the influenza pandemic], Wilma [my mother], and [Auntie] Verna). This photograph represents the apogee of Frank’s social status and wealth. In a year, he left the Catholic Church and was increasingly outspoken about native rights.

The knowledge that I have of Frank and Godfroi’s journeys across the St. Elias passes were through my mother (Wilma Valeda BROCHU (INGRAM) (1910 – 2009) who was close to my grandfather, who passed when she was only nineteen, and my father who knew Frank for several years while he was courting and first married to my mother. My grandmother (Rosalie Esther (‘Esther’) PIRE (BROCHU) (1890 – 1977), who only lived in the Yukon for several years, did not speak much of Frank and after his death. Frank passed when she was barely thirty-nine and Esther remarried. Godfroi outlived his brother by nearly two decades and shared details of those times with a number of family members. Wilma as Frank’s oldest daughter went on to a rich life as something of an indigenous modernist: shaped by Jazz and being part of a milieu of native intellectuals including Bill Reid, participating in an early women’s gymnastics team along with reading and study groups, the loss of a baby, early activism challenging residential schools, working for native and women’s health, raising five children, working as a health professional often dealing with racism and sexism, extolling the health benefits of both brewed coffee and espresso — while as she aged increasingly under-estimated as a woman of colour.

Francis Alfonso Brochu in 1928, in his store in Prince Rupert, in the last months of his life before having a massive heart attack at 58.

As for Frank and Godfroi’s milestones as just a score of indigenous people, all males, who staked and mined claims in the Klondike, first packing, with the necessary alliances with the Tlingit, other indigenous packers, and white francophone entrepreneurs, their identity politics were a bit different than today’s. Frank worked to build alliances with other native people but I recall no stories and have no written evidence of any formal relationships with local indigenous governments (‘Indian bands’ that were largely powerless at the time) as well as native populations that were devastated by that Gold Rush and after. Bilingual but quite literate in English (with terrible stories of studying in a Catholic school with abusive nuns), Frank and Godfroi interacted with the francophone community with many of the poorer workers from mixed-race heritages.

By the time that Frank left the Yukon in 1910, he was sufficiently savvy with Indian and inter-cultural politics to walk away from the Catholic Church a decade later, as a racist organization, and to espouse a kind of Indian-centred radicalism in opposition to most of the institutions of the nascent Canadian state. But was Frank’s pan-Indianism not more grounded in his own mixed-race Indian and Métis communities in Québec? Probably they were. Why was not his indigenous citizenship or an enrolment or lack ever explained beyond the eschewing of the Canadian state? This was explained but not fully understood. Most of Frank’s politics (and identifications) were not fully shared with my mother, grounded in what he saw in Québec, as workers in the port cities of Latin America, in the Chilkoot passes and the toil and relative success of the gold fields. Godfroi left a thread of fear in recounting the choice, as racially identifiable native people, to avoid travelling across Canada in 1897 and to blend in as ship hands travelling around The Horn. But then their indigenous identities allowed them to be packers without interference and their Canadian documents allowed them to get into the gold fields relatively early. In today’s parlance, this darker branch of the Brochus, “played it both ways,” knowing that the threat of racialized abuse was never far away. That the name French Hill functioned as a cover for a community of indigenous and mixed race workers and entrepreneurs suggest the endgame that then further coalesced in multi-racial Prince Rupert where the regional population remain majority indigenous.

2019 January 3 between Happy Camp and Deep Lake, British Columbia

The core of what I know about the Chilkoot and the Klondike were accounts from my mother, one of the few members of my family actually born in Yukon but who never remembered it, and, because of poor roads and expensive air fares until recent decades, never could afford to go back. In 2019, I finally visited the intact and refurbished grave of my great-grandmother, Palmyre FRANÇOIS (PIRE), aka Mrs. Z. J. Edwards (1871 – 1909) above Dawson. Palmyre’s recollections were never passed on whereas Frank and Godfroi’s adventures into what came to be known as the modern world embodied cycles of hope, perseverance, disappointment, and rage. Devoted to her large family, we spent the last of Wilma’s Klondike wealth on her care and amusement in her last years from ninety-seven to ninety-nine. With well over fifty descendants of Frank and Godfroi, the legacy is now in these fading lessons that have taken on their own lives.

But how much do family stories actually provide ways to weave and sometimes ignore our perceptions? When do our own recollection of these accounts actually direct, and perhaps, limit what we see? When can yarns open us more to what is there? And sometimes these accounts are useless: damp lumps at the bottom of our backpacks as we try to get over the mountains. As the refuse left in 1897 to 1899 along the Chilkoot Trail turns from garbage to heritage, we are left to search out what inspires us, today in these landscapes and ecosystems under intensifies threats, with tales of our ancestors only guides. And sometimes a few of those narratives, stop being about families and individuals, and become part of and are transformed by those same lands.

A drawing made at Deep Lake, British Columbia on July 4, 2019.

DISCLAIMER
I am from a big family and there a fifty shades of Brochu-ness — literally and figuratively. The details that are revisited and conveyed in this project are consistent with my mother’s recollections of what her father shared with her combined with archival documents. There are plenty of stories, yarns, tales, and sagas that I may have missed but that have taken new life in one or more of the descendants of Frank and Godfroi.

The treeline above Deep Lake, British Columbia on July 4, 2019.

2021 August 30: Carcross under duress

2021 August 30 Carcross on the isthmus separating the lakes with Bennett Lake
behind and to the south of Carcross viewed from halfway up Nare Mountain 1P3A0226
2021 August 29 historic Carcross with Nare Mountain in the background Carcross 1P3A0221.
2021 August 30 Carcross and Bennett Lake behind it from mid-way up Nare Mountain 1P3A0234

moving: 2019 June 26 * Dyea, Alaska to Finnegan’s Point through barely century old Sitka Spruce forest and cottonwood woodland

 

Taiya River and Cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa, bottom woodland above Dyea and below Finnegan’s Point * 2019 June 26 * P6260075

Taiya River and Irene Glacier above Finnegan’s Point * 2019 June 26 * P6260076
Irene Glacier above Finnegan’s Pointwith red alder, Alnus rubra, * 2019 June 26 * P6260062
wildflowers on the side of the Taiya River at Finnegan’s Point * 2019 June 26 * P6260072