Friday, July 11, 2008

Yukon Ho!

And now for the latest adventures of Molly Malone, the dirtpatch anthropologist...

That's right folks, I've headed to the northwest corner of Canada to live out the dream Calvin & Hobbes inspired in me so long ago.

I'm here working as a research assistant to Professor Patrick Moore of the University of British Columbia, where I am currently a PhD student in anthropology. Pat is doing linguistic research on Kaska, a native language spoken in parts of the Yukon and BC, mostly by people in their 50s and older (referred to as elders). I haven't been on the water as much as the other Expeditionettes, but I am getting to learn a lot about how people have lived off the land for the past few thousand years.

The photo up top is of the sign at the BC/YT border: "Welcome to North of 60." When I first saw it, I thought it said "Welcome to North of Go," in reference to Monopoly. I was wrong.

This is some typical southern Yukon scenery. The white trees are poplars, the other trees include spruce and jack pine. There are berries all over the place: strawberries, soap berries, bear berries. A grizzly bear is probably about to jump out and eat you.

This is me at work with Kassua, my 3 year-old half-Kaska, half-German intern. My jobs include running the video camera while elders tell stories, setting up really fancy voice recording equipment (Marantz, anyone?), taking notes in a language I neither speak nor understand, fetching lunch meat, brewing countless pots of tea, and driving the elders wherever they need to go. I make it sound tedious for humor's sake, but it's actually a really awesome experience.

These are my new moccasins made from moose hide and beaver fur (don't tell PETA). They were sewn by Kaska elder Minnie Caesar. Kaska women like Minnie tan their own hides and do intricate bead work on things like moccasins, vests, and headbands. They make a good living doing it, too, since tourists are willing to pay top dollar for Indian-made items.

This is what the back of your car looks like after driving for 400km on the Robert Campbell Highway--a road that is only paved for about 40km--in the rain. Check out the little gold miner on the left--killer facial hair, eh? I also like his "toque." Words of advice for driving in the Yukon: if you don't like mud, stay on the Alaska Highway.

This is the sign at the entrance to Lower Post, a Kaska community right across the border in BC. I've been driving here almost every day to bring some elders up to where we are working in Watson Lake. The top of the sign is written in Kaska.

Watson Lake has a signpost forest. What is that, you say? Obviously it is a forest of beams where you nail up a sign you stole from home. And I found one from Asheville.

This is what you have to drive up here, so you can bulldoze the grizzly bears before they kill you. Just kidding--they'd kill you anyway! Yukoners just love big machines. The better to extract all the minerals with, my dear...

And how do you transport all those minerals so they can sail to China? In a muffin truck, of course.


On Monday we head to Frances Lake for some more research, and the elders are all bringing their boats and their guns. Stay tuned for tales of fishnets and mooseheads...

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