Every year since 2011, the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association (YFNCT) has hosted the Adäka Cultural Festival, a celebration that showcases the territory’s diverse arts and distinctive way of life. For the past two or three years, the organizers have steadily received requests to incorporate traditional watercraft into the festival.

And so, the YFNCT has launched Dań Kwanje ’Á–Nààn (Voices Across the Water), a Canada 150 project that includes the construction, presentation and tour of four traditional watercraft—a moosehide boat, a birchbark canoe, a spruce dugout canoe and a sealskin qayaq. Earlier this year, the boat builders spent six weeks onsite at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in downtown Whitehorse constructing traditional watercraft and answering visitor questions during workshops and cultural demonstrations. Upon completion, the boats were literally launched—right into the Yukon River—during this year’s Adäka Cultural Festival.

“When Canada 150 was announced, we thought this was a great opportunity to host a project of this magnitude. It was definitely outside of our regular programming, and wouldn’t have happened without the Canada 150 funding,” says Charlene Alexander, executive director of YFNCT. “This very public event raised awareness of not only Canada’s short, 150-year history, but also the contribution that Aboriginal people made to the success of the country. Before there were roads, people travelled by waterways. Water transportation was extremely important and, when explorers were first exploring Canada, the Aboriginal population really supported that through these traditional watercraft.”

The boats are currently on the road, travelling to communities across Yukon. Once the tour is complete, they will be gifted to museums and cultural centres so the public will have access to them.

In years to come, YFNCT will continue to present its annual Adäka Cultural Festival, as well numerous other cultural events. For news on their latest events and festivals, check out yfnct.ca or follow them on Facebook.