My name’s Alex Somerville; I’m the Director of the Dawson City Museum, which is in this building behind me that was built in 1901, not for the museum but as the Territorial Administration Building.
The Territorial Administration Building in 1901 was completed in 5 months, at the cost of $100,000, and there was almost nothing of this land in this building. It was built by a man from Ottawa who had only spent two winters in the Yukon, using architecture inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. Even the wood he used to make it came from the south. It’s got more windows than walls, completely senseless construction as in winter time it allows all the heat to escape and in the summertime exposes the building to such a hard-beating sun that they actually ended up putting awnings over them for protection. The building itself was a symbol and a tool of the government of Canada’s presence, permanence and dominance in the Yukon.
Sixty civil servants worked in the building. In the winter in the darkness they carried out their work by electric lights, protected by 500 cords of wood burned in two furnaces to keep the building heated, to keep them safe and warm as they carried out their agenda.
There were really two buildings in the administration building. In the South wing was the mining Recorder’s Office where on the ground floor clerks would carefully annotate the names of people registering claims to the land that had never been ceded with no respect for the rights of the people who had spent countless generations on it.
On the second floor the largest Department were the surveyors, who did, who drew lines and parcelled out and inch by inch made sure that everyone knew just what was what and what was where and, had no knowledge of or respect for all the knowledge that had come before. And used names that had been thought up maybe as, maybe as much even as twenty years before they were writing them down. Without any regard for the names of thousands of years past.
In the South wing, the administration wing, on the ground floor the office of the Commissioner, the man appointed by people in Ottawa who had likely never visited the Yukon, had no knowledge of its people or their needs, to carry out an agenda explicitly in favour of mineral exploitation and so-called development. We think of the early Commissioners of the Yukon, and the politicians. George Black, lawyer; a privilege not everyone could attain. We’ve Dr. Alfred Thompson, a privilege not everyone could have attained.
On the second floor was the Yukon Council Chamber. Initially totally appointed, they were so proud to have made such great strides in democracy when in 1909, the first wholly elected Yukon Council took their seats. A council composed wholly of white men, elected wholly by white men. A Council elected by laws that, in 1919, the Yukon Elections Ordinance passed in that chamber stated explicitly in the section who may vote: “Any British subject not being an Indian.”
And in fact as long as Yukon Council sat in that chamber, until 1954 when it moved to Whitehorse, there was no indigenous person of the Yukon elected to the body. In fact it wasn’t until 1978 that Grafton Njootli, from Old Crow, for the first time as an indigenous Yukoner in the Yukon government.
Lots of things eventually started to change and kept changing. Today for example the official gazetteer of the Yukon, listing all the official place names, more and more replacing colonial names with indigenous ones. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in are a self-governing First Nation in their traditional territory. And today the, the Dawson City Museum occupies the building an organization that strives to maintain and develop a positive, constantly working develop… working relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in here and the Heritage Department there and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Center.
And if you have more time this weekend or this week if you’re in town on the second floor in the council chamber you can see a small traveling exhibit that we’re happy to host called “Mapping the way, the path of indigenous governments in the Yukon.” Thank you.