Alaska got as close as it could to a royal visit this week. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, were met by a large crowd, music and dancing in Carcross this week. They event was part of a larger tour around the Yukon after traveling through British Columbia. The visit focused on First Nations issues and culture.
“We as a people have struggled for generations and for years and years and we’re finally coming out of the other side of it so to speak, says Andy Carvill, Chief of the Yukon’s Carcross Tagish First Nation. “We’re rebuilding our culture through songs and performances.”
He spoke at a traditional ceremony welcoming Prince William and Kate Middleton to the small Yukon community of around 300 people on a crisp, sunny day.
“The majority of the First Nations in the Yukon have settled,” says Carvill. “We are a government. And we’re asking that you assist us and help us to continue to build that relationship with the crown.”
The royal couple was greeted with joyful dancing and singing, a performance by the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers and another by a children’s dance group. Carvill was joined by First Nations chiefs from across the territory, the Grand Chief, and the Premier, among other local dignitaries. Visitors came from around the Yukon, and some from Alaska. Amidst the merriment, Carvill spoke about serious issues affecting First Nations people.
“We still have obstacles before us that we continue to battle on behalf of our people for the protection of our land, protection of our waters, the clean air that we breathe,” says Carvill.
He says he’s optimistic that the Carcross Tagish First Nation that has been established for 10 years will have the support to work through those obstacles.
“For those like the children that are dancing, carrying on our songs and our cultures,” says Carvill. “And those yet unborn, it’s very important to us to continue to work together to get that recognition as a government.”
Ryan McDougall is part of the dance group that greeted the royal couple. He says this visit is about education.
“It means about educating people who, like the royals about our cultural ways and who we are as a sovereign people,” says McDougall. “How we need to share our cultural ways. Our songs, our histories and our dance so that we can view each other as being equal.”
There was a serious message at the core of the royal visit, but for many it was just plain fun to see royalty so close to home.
“This is an epic trip,” says Nancy Spear. She’s from Juneau. She came to Carcross with her friends Nan Saldi from Skagway and Kathy Madson from Haines, where the three started their journey. Here’s Saldi.
“And left the boat harbor at 4:30 to get to Skagway by seven so we could hit the border right when it opened.”Spear says it’s really exciting to see the Duke and Duchess in the Yukon.
“That they would come to such a small place and that they value the beauty of our area,” says Spear.
Cathy Sheardown is from Whitehorse and carries a photo album with her. It has pictures of previous generations of the royal family visiting the Yukon.
“I think it’s great they always include the North within their visits,” says Sheardown. “Because quite often we are, we feel left out or separate from the rest of Canada but this proves we’re not, I guess.”
The royal day in Carcross included a visit with a master carver, a trip to Montana Mountain to cheer on mountain bikers and a meeting with members of a program that employs young people to build trails. William and Kate also stepped on board the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
While the royal couple was only in Carcross for a short time, it’s clear those few hours had a meaningful impact on the community, as people young and old came out to celebrate and welcome the regal guests to their home.