Located in Northwestern Canada close to Alaska, Yukon is a Canadian region of extreme beauty and also extreme contrasts. Winters are harsh, snowy and very cold and Summers are breezy, warm and pleasant, though very unpredictable. 80% of the Yukon is wilderness and in the remainder of the region live approximately 36,000 people, of which 25% are First Nations, i.e. the First People of this land recognized as distinct nations (instead of using the term Aboriginals, Natives or Indians). There are 14 First Nations in the Yukon based on two clans, Crow and Wolf, and we have been lucky enough to get to know the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN) during our volunteering project in Canada.
Our accommodation is at the CTFN farm on Craig Lake close to Carcross, a small lively village originally called Caribou Crossing. The name derives from the migration of large herds of caribou which was happening twice a year across the shallowest point of Nares Lake, which is now between the two bridges in town. Carcross was an important junction point en route to the Klondike gold fields at Dawson, hence the train station for the White Pass & Yukon Railway which now hosts thousands of tourists every year.
So what about living in a First Nation farm in the Yukon? There’s so much to learn and it`s hard physical work, especially when compared to office and city life. Daily tasks include feeding the animals, cleaning the chicken eggs, building fences,… CTFN farm has been abandoned in 1999 after the original owner’s death and has opened back its doors only since May 2018, so lots of cleaning going on and reconstruction. Previous volunteers have also started a potato crop and already built the horse fence and the chicken coops.
The wonderful thing about this farm is that is communal, property of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, so all proceeds from selling its products and some products are given back to the community. For example, every Monday a dozen of farm eggs is given to each Elder of the community (Elder is the name given to the older members of the First Nations who are seen as the keepers and teachers of aboriginal traditions and are held very much in respect by everyone). The remainder of the eggs are sold and all money goes to the CTFN. We have also been working at the CTFN veggie garden which has 3 more smaller crops and 2 greenhouses – here we have watered the plants taking water from the nearby river, which will eventually be sold at the weekly market in Carcross later this Summer. The garden has been in place for years and only operates in Summer and partially in Autumn.
Back to the farm! Pretty much everything at the farm is built with wood, including our present home, a basic wooden cabin 15 minutes walking distance from the main cabin and hence from the kitchen and bathroom. A double mattress on the floor and a close-by long drop, a forest nearby and occasional bears and squirrels as neighbours. We built a rudimentary bridge to cross the stream which separates us from our cabin and have bought bear bells to let our furry friends know we’re coming home in the evening. The closest internet connection and grocery store is 20 minutes by car which we sometimes hitchhike to reach little Carcross for wifi and coffee or for hiking around the area. Farm life in the Yukon is been inspiring and refreshing and volunteering and helping the local First Nation has definitely been rewarding.