Hello, my name is Angharad. I’m the curator of the Dawson City Museum, but I am also an immigrant. Although I’ve lived most of my life in Canada, being Welsh is a huge part of my identity, and I’ve been free and welcome whilst living in Canada to express my culture, my heritage, my values, to speak my language.
But I am White. Many non-white communities don’t have that opportunity, haven’t had the same support or welcome. In particular the First Nations community in their own homeland have had their identy, identity systematically denied by government and by society. And this kind of socio-cultural colonialism I’ll talk to today in reference to this big beautiful building behind me.
So “No boundary line here” is the motto of the Arctic Brotherhood, who built – who built this building, I got to turn with the mic – who built this building in 1901. “No boundary line here” echoed founding principles that welcomed all nationalities and backgrounds. But in reality a very distinct line existed in this fraternity and their clubhouse, a line that prohibited membership and entry based on race and gender.
Like many of the fraternal organizations and groups that came from the south, brought up by stampeders, so the Odd Fellows, the Eagles, the Loyal Order of the Moose, the Arctic Brotherhood, although a northern creation, was open only to white men, sending a very clear message to the local First Nations community that, “You are not welcome. We are not equal.”
Fraternal members instead included influential figures of Dawson commerce, commerce industry and politics. again, white men with a very specific vision for Klondike Society, a vision where there was no place for First Nations world view, way of life or culture. So in spite of the very definition of fraternity, in spite founding principles of benevolence and oo! fellowship, in practice these groups and the society they influenced functioned and thrived through frac, fracture, specifically discrimination, segregation and exclusion.
The Brotherhood and the hall, was also a site for Dawson’s most prestigious social gatherings. Its galas were lavish events, where guests wore their finest clothes, danced all night to the best orchestras, ate the finest foods. It was the place to be seen, and as such reserved for the right sort of person. Once again First Nations residents were excluded from joining such celebrations, portrayed as an ill-fitting other apart from Dawson’s social elite.
This is in stark contrast to the welcome shown by the First Nation Community to settlers in the Klondike. We know that Chief Isaac every Christmas season invited Dawson residence down to Moosehide to celebrate together. In 1903 when 200 Gwitchin came from Peel River, a huge feast, and celebration was held at, Moosehide Village and again Dawson residence invited. For those who couldn’t attend, dancers even came to Dawson to share their traditional dances on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre for two sold-out nights.
But despite such efforts to build Bridges, to build understanding and tolerance, the marginalization of indigenous people continued. Organizations like the Arctic Brotherhood helped to standardize an imported southern culture that ignored indigenous voices and values. All that was on show here essentially, all that was sung, that was said, that was danced, that was worn, was reflective of and exclusive to a white community. The Arctic Brotherhood Hall was a bold testament to the assumed excellence of Western ways, of Western culture and society which was essentially white culture and society. It was an emblem of social control and cultural colonialism. So even though for some this building represented a place where there was friendship, there was celebration and joviality and brotherhood, there still existed an undercurrent of racism.
Today this building and other fraternal organizations, you can see over there, for example, welcome all. They invite and are open to all visitors and residents alike, as Gerties’, as the KIAC Ballroom Odd Fellows Hall down there, as the Masonic Temple, which is open for Doors Open I believe. But we shouldn’t forget or ignore the truth of their beginning and their exclusion of the indigenous community.
So as we stand here today I guess I’m going to suggest that we reclaim the Arctic Brotherhood motto, no mound, “No boundary lines here,” and actually if everyone could hold up their willows why not so everyone can see them. So let’s reclaim “No boundary line here” so that it properly reflects our present and future community to create a true fellowship. To embody benevolence and tolerance, to welcome and invite, to open doors and minds and hearts to truly listen, acknowledge and act, which you are all helping to do being part of this walk. So thank you, and mahsi cho.