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Aaron Bocanegra (M, 40)
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Jun 7, 2007
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    From here to the End
    It has been a while since my last posting. Since then we have traversed many kilometers, made new friends and spoke with some great people. After Atlin we headed north to Carcross. The town is in peril at the moment due to the imminent flooding. The river has swollen to an intense degree and is expected to peek soon. In fact, as I write this I am heading back to Carcross to visit some of the people we met along the way and to document the flooding. After Carcross we headed up through Whitehorse, Yukon one more time. The town used to be the north, however it seems that it has become like so many other cities that its identity has changed. The once frontier town now has a Walmart packed with RV’s sleeping at their favorite shopping center and just got a Starbucks last year to go with the recently installed cell service. One of the people we spoke with mentioned how great it is to step out of the city. Whitehorse is surrounded by beauty and dramatically different experiences and possibilities. Aside from the government work it seems that the striking nature of its mountain landscape keeps the people from going insane.
    We did a talk at the Arts Underground in Whitehorse which allowed for a good conversation and for us to further develop our ideas and our plans. While there we got interviewed for the Yukon News and the radio. The press would prove to be intensely useful. Our picture was on the cover of the newspaper the whole way up north and people had heard us speak on the radio. We would continuously be recognized and people would stop to speak with us. In addition, the woman who interviewed us for the native radio told us about a general assembly of all the 14 Yukon First Nations happening at Moosehide Lake. Again our plans came to us through the fortune of speaking with somebody interested in what’s going on. Leaving the Arts Underground we met an older First Nations man sitting on a bench. He was homeless trying to get back to Haines and told us the story of his family and his future. Whitehorse really felt like the start of the northern experience, but as we were told in an interview, we knew we had to go further to see anything. So we headed out for the fabled Dawson City.

    A small town with a massive spirit, Dawson City lies on the Yukon River. The people here are amazing. We roll into town late at night and park on the street. This is where we make camp the first night. Hopping out of the van, we head to Diamond Toothed Girtie’s for some gambling and drinking, I break even. The next morning we start our work with the stench of the road on us and a strong desire to get started. We head over to the Tr’ondek Heritage department to figure out what we can do about going to the General Assembly and speaking with the people. The office is full of impressively gracious and intelligent people that welcome us with a smile and enormous access to the world we just stepped into. Quickly, we have a list of people to speak with and are told how to get to Moosehide for the General Assembly.
    Taking a small boat down the Yukon we are at Moosehide in no time at all. At the dock we see a sign welcoming us to the traditional lands and saying that they are happy. An intense odor of fish being smoked wafts over the land as we climb the hill to get to the little village. On the far end there is a large hall for the gathering. The nations are sat around many tables in a square. At the tables are some of the greatest leaders I have ever had the privilege of hearing speak. Chiefs, elders and the youth were all given a voice. As the environment is decaying around them they are actively rebuilding a culture devastated by residential schools and deculturalization as policy. In the opening remarks, one chief stops to thank the Tr’ondek Gwichen First Nation for their help throughout history. He points to the cemetery on the hill and says the names of all our people sit up on that hill, when the people were taken from their families to be in placed in these schools the Tr’ondek were there to support them, and the depth of gratitude echoed through the hall.
    After we interviewed one of the most eloquent and sincere leaders I have ever met we walked over to the lunch tent where a group called the First Peoples Dance Group were singing, dancing and story telling. Their dress was beautiful and intricately considered. We spoke with them after and have become friends quickly. We are on our way to stay with them now. Sitting around a table we spoke to all of them about their lives, work, and experiences. With an open and honest candor they revealed a great deal about themselves and their culture that has had a deep impact on my life. In fact, this First Nations General Assembly was a moment of great hope for me, to see such a performance of active reconstruction will be held deep in my memory forever.
    Marilyn, one of the dancers, introduced us to Doris, her mother and an elder that had fought for her people for years. Doris told us the story of how the First nations were involved in the discovery of Gold and the building of history in Dawson City. The native perspective was born of completely different desires and was entirely left out of the local museum that told the story of Dawson City “in their own voices.” We made plans to do a photo shoot with the Dancers at the local old timey photo studio. The concept was that they were to sit looking fierce above us while we huddled tied up and scared at their feet as their symbol of the man. They are going to turn it into a t-shirt that says homeland security since 1896.
    That night we explored the copious opportunities for nightlife in Dawson City. I am now 30 dollars up at Girtie’s. We find ourselves at the local hotspot, The Pit, a very special place. There we run into our new friends, in a town as tolerant and close as this, friends are almost always nearby. Samantha introduces us to her friend Brandon, a young grass roots leader from Old Crow. We have an enlightening conversation full of critique and passion regarding sustainable development and culture. After our conversation we agree we meet the next day at the general assembly for an interview. He has the presence of a leader and will one day be Chief.
    Dawson City is absolutely one of my favorite places and I hope to return again soon. There were so many excellent people and experiences there I am sad that I haven’t the time to recount them all. After a few more days in Dawson City we headed off to the Dempster Highway to head to the top of the world, Inuvik. The lore surrounding this highway is loud and repeated frequently, the road is dangerous, bring many spares, the bugs are pervasive and you will be eaten alive. As with many myths these are often over stated, in fact most of the people passing it along have never driven the Dempster. We traversed the 1500km without blowing a tire on the Dempster. In fact, we blew only one tire as we parked next to the nicest hotel in Inuvik in search of supplies.
    The drive was epic with each kilometer becoming even more grand then the last. The jack pine stretched to the sky, overlooking a massive expanse of tundra in the shadow of never ending mountain ranges. As the elders had warned us there was a great amount of evidence of melting permafrost, with trees dying all over the place and once full creeks running dry for the first time in memory. The most spooky of these was a creek named Glacier Creek that was nearly dry.
    At the Arctic Circle the earth stops producing trees and it feels like a new terrain unlike any I have seen before. We ate mountain berries, just like the bears and enjoyed the trip up to the top. Once we reached the top we quickly learned that it is often the journey not the destination that is important. Inuvik is cripplingly bleak and disturbed us greatly. There is a story to be told there but it was out of the scope of our project so we moved on quickly the next day. On the way back we encountered an elder named Therese at an improvised snack shop. Her introduction was essentially, “Hello, I am interested in talking about my culture and how change has occurred socially and environmentally in my lifetime.” Her words were important and will stay with me for ages. For that you’ll have to wait for the documentary to be completed. There is always so much more, but I have to run now. Wish me a safe trip back to Edmonton.

    Thu, Aug 9, 2007  Permanent link

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