2015 is the 4th bi-ennial “Kus Te Yea” Celebration held at the Teslin Cultural Center, Teslin, Yukon every odd year from Juneau’s Celebration held on even years. Most of the audience is from out of town since Teslin is only a community of less than 500(?) people. People come from Atlin, Whitehorse, Carcross, and of course Teslin. Then there are the Alaskan communities who are beginning to catch on to this special event which is free to the public; no one pays for the event, not even the dancers or the non-Natives.
I have been to every Celebration in Teslin since the first one in 2009. Every year there are a few more new attendees and there are those who return every year no matter what. That’s how I am too: I return every year no matter what. Why?
I return because the people and landscape of Yukon Territory are “raw” and down to earth; there are no pretenses, no game-playing, no trying to be somebody you aren’t. Like the landscape, the people of Yukon are very real…they have to be. The environment and weather makes you be so.
I remember my long-time friend, musician singer/songwriter, Buddy Tabor making his annual trek to Yukon every year in the late Summer. He was always eager to visit his friends and make the drive through the raw territory. He said that he needed his fix; a fix that reminded him of the Alaska that once was before the oil money made things different. Buddy passed away in 2012. I never got to share my experiences and feelings about Yukon though I share them whenever I meet those who knew him and whenever I make that sojourn drive like he did.
Unlike the Celebrations in Juneau, Alaska (held on the even years), the “KusTeYea” Celebration is free; even the dinners are free. No one pays anything except when they take one of the workshops and pay for the materials and supplies. Some of those workshops include paddle carving, bentwood box making, snow shoe making, cedar bark weaving and Chilkat or Ravenstail weaving. Demonstrations include brain-tanned moosehide, preparing and smoking fish, and the infamous salmon fillet contest…not to mention the canoe rides and canoe races.
The event is held in the cultural center and on the shores of Lake Teslin. There are not enough motels/hotels in Teslin (only 2). Visitors camp out in the designated areas with full-fledged campsites including elaborate outdoor kitchens, or they have a happy RV camper or a small dome tent suffices.
There are several dance groups that perform each night; one from Carcross, another from Atlin, Whitehorse and of course, Teslin. Each night the group will do the invitational dance calling out all the various tribes and nationalities called “Gusuu Wa Eh!?” Translation: “Where Are You?” The name of the tribe (or nationality) is called out and if you are from that tribe or nationality, you come on out and show your stuff and drop money onto the “money blanket” which is placed on the floor in front of the stage. It’s fun; and of course there is always a clown who has to make everyone laugh about him and themselves!
I prepare for this Celebration every year. I look forward with happy anticipation knowing fully well that I become more comfortable with our Inland Tlingit relatives and vice versa, I believe they have become more comfortable with me. Much like the Celebration in Juneau, it’s like a family reunion.