The Isaac Family
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Culture and Religion
If a Crow dies, people of the Crow side would give a potlatch to feed the opposite Wolf side and distribute gifts to them. The same holds true if a Wolf dies, the Wolf clan will give the potlatch and gifts to the Crows.
Long ago if a Crow woman was giving birth to a child, female helpers of the Wolf clan would help deliver the baby. Then they would be paid with gifts of moose skin and furs. The mother would say "Baby gives you a present."
When this baby boy grows up to be about twelve years old, he will go hunting with his maternal uncle to learn good hunting skills. The uncle would be on the same side as the mother......Joy Isaac, Crow clan.
Tradition Han DressAs did Northern Athapaskans, The Han dressed in tailored clothing of skins, that of the caribou being the most important. Walter Ben was confident that the Han never made garments either of fish skins or bird skins with their feathers, or any kind of animal intestines. Furthermore, they did not weave hats from spruce-root fibers.
Aboriginal dress was in most respects soon replaced by European-type clothing, and consequently it is not surprising that descriptions of items attributed directly to the Han are rare. As perhaps might be expected, however, the longest comment on the Han Indians that was made by Robert Campbell during the first trip through Han territory which took place between June 5 and 10, 1851, was on dress. In his journal for the same period, Campbell writes briefly about the Indians and one can hardly doubt that they were Han. He says: "Their dress which when new is pretty and picturesque, is made of the skin of moose or the caribou, principally the latter. The shirt or coat is finished in a point, both before and behind, and reaches down to to the knees, being frequently ornamented with coloured beads, porcupine quills or long hair. The coat has a hole large enough to admit the head, but does not open in front, and is provided with a hood which can be used, when wanted, as a head-dress. The trousers or leg covering, and shoes are made of the same material, and the garment made with the hair inside for warmth" (Campbell 1958: 97)
Alexander Hunter Murray, Hudson's Bay Company trader and founder of Fort Yukon in 1847 provide the following drawing of neighbouring Gwich’in dress.
Chief Isaac's Mittens
"Chief Issac's mittens. The mitts are beautifully beaded in floral patterns, fur trim and fringes. Originally they would have been beaded with the chief's name, 'CHIEF ISAAC', but the beading has since unraveled. They are impressive as they are beautiful and elaborate. One can tell that they were made for a very important and affluent person. Women prided themselves on making nice garments for their loved ones and esteemed members of the community. Unfortunately the seamstress who made these mittens remains unknown and there is no museum record stating the maker's name. The mittens are beaded so elaborately, they may have been made for special occasions instead of everyday use." - Photo and text provided by the Yukon Museums website.
Chief Isaac's Jacket
Chief Isaac's Jacket
Photo Credit: Yukon Museums
"On June 30 1978 Marjorie Jeanne Duncan from Portland Oregon
wrote a letter to the "Tourist Information and Bureau of Indian
Affairs" describing a trip to Dawson in approximately 1926. She
explains how she, at that time was M. J. Beaver, and her grandmother,
Nellie E. Capper, traveled from Chicago to Dawson. The duration of
their stay in Dawson was about a week, during this time they met Chief
Isaac and his wife. The grandmother purchased a "buckskin beaded
jacket" of his. Mrs. Duncan believes that Chief Isaac and his wife
wanted her to have the jacket as well "out of friendship". Chief Isaac
autographed the jacket on the inside back.
Mrs. Duncan said that over the years many collectors have tried to buy this from her, but she could never sell it because of the sentimental attachment to her grandmother, their trip to the Yukon and Alaska, and the friendship of Chief Isaac. At this time she wanted the jacket to come back to the Dawson, to a museum or to a family member. The coat eventually went to Joy McDiarmid (Isaac), and is currently on loan to the Dawson City Museum."...See the Yukon Museums website for more information.
At the Han Gathering held in Moosehide in 1994, Gerald Isaac made this
eloquent speech while wearing his grandfather's jacket:
Dear Indian people of the Yukon;
It was with pride and joy I read in the Yukon Indian News today that Gerald Isaac presented to the Chief Isaac Memorial the ceremonial jacket that Chief Isaac gave to my grandmother and me in 1927, when we were in Dawson. We had come down the Yukon River on the paddlewheeler Casca through the Five Finger Rapids. We stayed in Dawson where Chief Isaac took us in his charge to escort us around to see Dawson and he told us about his people, the community of Moosehide, and about his family. Princess Pat and I are the same age, Princess Angela was a few years younger. I never forgot the Chief's hospitality and sincerity. The jacket went with me many places in the world. Many people wanted to buy it and some wanted me to donate it to a museum and I said "no". I told people that some day I would return it to the family and the place it had come from, the Yukon. I had the pleasure of returning it in 1981, fifty four years after I had received it with my grandmother from Chief Isaac.
An interesting thing happened when I came to Whitehorse and met Joy McDiarmid (Isaac) and her family, she was the one I first corresponded with about coming back to the Yukon. i met Gerald Isaac and his lovely family. Angela Isaac Lopaschuk took me to town and said she wanted to give me an Indian made gift and I declined. I said it would mean more if she made the selection. She choose a pair of moccasins with the same wild rose beaded motif that was on the coat, and she had not seen the the coat as my son was bringing it up to meet me. The fur on the moccasins was the same as the fur that had been down the front of the jacket, but through the years was now gone.
I went to Dawson to meet Princess Pat and had a nice visit with her and her son Barry's family also.
I read Joy McDiarmid's articles with great interest and about the things Gerald is doing, as teaching surveying. Keep up the good work, all of you.
Having made a reconnection with members of the Isaac family, I feel friendship of my family and Chief Isac's family is a continuing friendship. I read my copies of the Yukon Indian News that the Isaac family have sent to me with great interest as does my son John Bonine and his Canadian wife Anne, who also gets the paper. John teaches Environmental Law at the University of Oregon and is interested in the preservation of our United States and Canadian environments for the good of all of us.
We wish you all well this year and in the years to come.
Marjorie Jeanne Duncan
Chief Isaac in transitional chiefly dress, wearing a chief's jacket (made by his wife Eliza) and cloth pants. The jacket has an abundance of leather fringe and flowered beadwork strip down the front seams and across back shoulder. Beaded flowers are red roses and blue forget me nots. His gauntlet-style mittens also appear to be heavily beaded, and his bandoleer is the same one he wears while paddling a canoe. One unusual feature is the decorative garters tied with ribbons around his knees. Such garters were traditional among Natives living in the southern part of the Yukon. His black bowler hat has been removed and placed on a chair beside him.
Chief Isaac, photographed in Dawson on August 15,1924, illustrates another striking blend of Indian and western dress styles. Here Isaac sports a white shirt, dress suit, and bow tie under a wool Tlingit-style button blanket. He has a bowler hat with two eagle feathers sticking out, the beaded bandoleer draped over his shoulder, and dentalium shell earings. The button blanket and the dentalium shells(called ch'inthin in Han) probably came from the coast via Tlingit traders. To complete the stylistic juxtaposition, Isaac's shoes are laced leather with stiff soles, and in his left hand is a half-smoked cigar. (HAN Han Hwech'in people of the river by Craig Mishler and William E. Simeone)
1963, Han "Chief", Charlie Isaac make the following statement to a
visiting anthropologist about the training of young Han men before the
arrival of white man:
Charlie Isaac gave Slobodin (1963a: 8-9) an account of moose-hunting which is of special interest because it involves a particular kind of geologic structure called a cirque--a deep, steep-walled, amphitheatral recess in a mountain, caused by glacial erosion. Charlie said of the fall season: This is about the hardest time of year to hunt moose. Somebody would see moose sign in a creek. The moose was deep in the brush and there wasn't much hope of getting close to one. The men would go up the ridges to the head of the creek and wait along the ridge in the curve of rocks (the cirque) above the head of the stream.
The boys would start through the brush along the creek, making a lot of noise. They were suppose to notice the landmarks at the head of the creek: a clump of trees, a scar from a landslide, a big round rock, maybe a patch of snow, and so on. Finally they came to the base of the bowl (cirque). The hunters were hiding behind the ridge, and couldn't see the moose climbing, but the boys would watch the moose and would call out, "By the patch of trees!" "By the scar!" The men would run along, bent over, behind the ridge. The moose would come up, sometimes within six feet of the hunter, and he would be shot with arrows.
Salmon FishingLife of the Han along the Yukon River in early 1900s
While the salmon are running in the river, the Han settle down at their village at the mouth of the Klondike river which is situated close to the water's edge, and do nothing but fish. The men make nets and canoes and the women dry and cache large quantities of fish. In the early fall the entire family goes hunting and gathering of berries and roots. When a good supply of game is accumulated they cache it on the spot. In October they return to the river for about two months, when they make snow-shoes, toboggans, and other things for winter use. The women tan moose and caribou hides and make clothing for the family. About the middle of January they have a big time "all same Christmas" when they get out all their cached meat and bring it to the river. They stay there on the river until the meat is nearly gone, and again go in search of game in February. In winter, extreme temperature changes can make travel difficult as they hunt for caribou and moose. The men go and when they get a moose or caribou the women come, pitch the camp, and prepare to cook. In the spring they return to the river to prepare for fishing.King Salmon run on the Yukon River in 1920
The Kings enter the mouth of the river in Norton Sound early in June, and take about three to four weeks to make the first 1,250 miles to Dawson, where the run is expected to begin about June 24. The date varies from year to year.
South mouth of
Charlie Isaac gave Slobidin (1963a 7-8) this account.
Most caribou hunting was done in the mountains in the winter time. The people would be moving along, looking for caribou signs. Then they might find some caribou tracks that might be one, two, three days old--maybe weeks old. They would look around for the nearest open space of clear ice, maybe an overflow or a glacier. Most of the people would camp there. Five or six young men would be sent after the caribou. They would take very little food -- maybe the people had very little food anyway--and would follow the caribou two, three days, maybe a week. Young men were trained to be good runners and to get along without much grub. All this time they slept in the snow, didn't make a fire, kept running all day.
Finally they caught up with the caribou, and then they got on the other side of them and turned them and began to herd them back toward the camp. The first day, the caribou went fast, the next day slower; the third day they were just walking along. Especially if there was deep snow, it was hard for them. As they got closer to the camp, every night one of the boys ran back to camp to give word how far away they were, and then ran back to the caribou.
Finally they got close. All the people made a circle around the clear ice--old men, women, children, besides the regular hunters. Some had bow and arrows, some spears, some knives. The young men drove the caribou into the circle of people, and then the circle was closed and all the people hollered and yelled: "Wow-wow-wow!" and kepted the caribou running around in a tight-packed circle, around and around. The kids yelled and waved sticks and hit the caribou's legs. The men used the weapons. Usually they killed the whole bunch, maybe 35-40-50-60 caribou. Some would use just a knife. My father killed two caribou thay way when he was young. You grab the caribou by an antler and pull its head up. You have to watch its front legs. It tries to kick you with its legs, and it could bust your chest in or kick out your guts. But you stand to one side and hold the head away from you, driving your knife into the side of its chest.
In 1915, Chief Isaac told a newspaper reporter: Dawson Daily
The notion common among the Athapaskans that sickness did not exist aboriginally
Charlie Isaac expressed it when Slobodin (1963a; 20) asked him "whether, whenever someone became ill, it was thought he had been attacked by a medicine man." Charlie answered: "But people never died of sickness in those days, only of old age, or accident, or sometimes starvation--but not that so much because they usually got by. The people were very strong. They run all the time, getting game, and they had no liquor, no smoking."
"Disease is not always the result of the medicine-man's evil spirit, but sometimes comes on itself, so the Indians have certain medical remedies. If they have a cough they chew grass roots or spruce bark to stop the illness, and sometimes the old woman boil bark, roots, and brush to make tea, which is drunk for all kinds of illness. Originally many kinds of bark were boiled in the same mixture, making a brew for the ailment."
Natural Plant Healing Sauve
I make this sauve from natural plants. Can be used for cuts, scars, insect bites, rashes, and arthritic joints. Can also be used as mosquito repellant....Joy Isaac
Gathering: Gather plants in Spring in areas that are clean from pollutants.
Drying: Spread plants on screen where air can circulate around them. Let plants welt for 24 hours.
Oil Infusion: Chop the welted plants and place in a capped jar. Add enough olive oil to wet plants and a additional 1/2 inch. Cap jar tightly, place in a thick brown paper bag, and place in sun for 3-10 days. Shake the mixture each day. When infusion is completed, strain oil, press remaining pulp and filter out sediment. To this oil add shaved bees wax. (standard practice is 1 oz. beeswax to 1 cup oil) Warm this mixture over a low heat until the wax is melted. Remove from heat. Cool down. Bottle; cap tightly; label; store in cool dark place.
Tappan Adney's Description of
a Traditional Camp Source: The
Han Indians-Cornelius Osgood
The Tr'ondek Hewch'in, or Klondike band of Han, came under
pressure to change during the Klondike gold rush. One change desired by
the Canadian Government was abolition of the potlatch. In 1884,
government amended the Indian Act, making participation in the potlatch
Potlatches at MoosehideBy Auntie Pat
Interviewed by Julie Cruikshank, December, 1974
In the old days, people make lots of potlatches. Other tribes have their own chiefs too. Sometimes they get together, have potlatch. These chiefs, they meet, make big speech.
To give potlatch means people are related. It happens at death. Indians are like that. When there is death, Indians get great sorrow. They make up sad songs. They mourn. They dance in circles, move their arms up and down. They make presents to each other, Crows and Wolves. If Crow dies, Crows give potlatch and they give presents to Wolves.
Potlatch can last one week or two weeks. Them days, men make money trapping. They potlatch with rifles, calico, Hudson Bay blankets-thats the most important. They make duffel out of those blankets, line parky, underwear, inside mitts. Sometimes they give money too - $50 or $60. Those days groceries cheaper, so potlatches last longer. Eat dry fish, moosemeat, soup.
I've seen several potlatches, all at Moosehide. After old people died, no more potlatches, just dinners and dances. People used to have lots of respect for each other those days.
At burial, dress that person up with new clothes. Cover up with Hudson Bay blanket. Minister stop all that. I don't know why.
No grave houses our way. At Pelly, Ross River, Little Salmon, they have grave houses. Put in frying pan, plates, whatever that person use. Down our way people don't do that. They make fences, all kinds, all white. Now, no more.
Photo from Alaska Historical Society website: Potlatch at Mooside, July 4, 1907: Eagle Dancers: Paul Peter, Ken Joseph, Old Alex, Charles Steve, Edward Jonathan, Esau Harper holds potlatch stick, Chief Isaac, David Rabit. Courtesy of Eagle Historical Society.
1910 Potlatch at Eagle, AlaskaLast winter the Eagle chief died. He had hoarded up much wealth of skins, blankets, traps, rifles, and other property and, since it is not customary among the Eagle Indians for relatives to inherit the property of the deceased, his kinfolk received nothing of his belongings. By common consent Old Peter took charge of the effects. It was then announced that there would be a "potlatch" in the spring, when the goods of the deceased man would be given away. Invitations were sent east to the Moosehide Indians up the river, west to Charlie Creek Indians down the river, and south over the hills to Ketchumstock Indians. The Porcupine Indians (Takkuth Kutchin) to the north were not invited, because they were not related to the tribe. All the goods were kepted intact in the caches until the arrival of the guests. Then Chief Isaac, the Moosehide chief, took full charge of the ceremonies, which lasted several days, during which there was much feasting and dancing. At the dinners, the men first gorged themselves, allowing the women to come in after they had finished and take what was left. Between the ceremonies they assembled in groups about the village and gossiped or sung to tunes resembling those of Japanese operas. Tune was kept by one of the Indians beating upon a caribou-skin drum, while everyone swayed to the tune, alternately bending the right and left knee. For the final ceremony a fence about seven feet high was built about an enclosure thirty by sixty feet. The "potlatch" proper was held in this enclosure during one afternoon, the people sat about near the fence facing the goods of the deceased, which were displayed at one end by Chief Isaac, who stood in the midst and presided. The first hour of the ceremony was very mch like a church meeting, all talking in their native language. The chief then opened with a speech, and when he sat down others rose and spoke as the spirit seemed to move them, apparently eulogizing the great chief. At times the speaker became much wrought up, his gestures showing that he was illustrating a fight with an animal. After the speech making, the goods were distributed one article at a time. The chief would pick up a blanket, walk down the center of the assembly, and with a few remarks toss it to someone, the recipient smiling responding with brief remarks. Articles were only given to the visitors; the Eagle Indians received nothing.
After watching the ceremony several hours, I was about to leave when the chief called me and handed me a pair of moose-skin moccasins, saying, "This is because you were good to my people." Next day the food became scarce, so the visitors began to depart for their homes, their toboggans laden with goods from the deceased chief's cache. (Source, Ferdinard Schmitter, 1910 Upper Native Customs and Folk-lore)
Chief Isaac had a special relationship with both Bishop Bompas and Bompas's successor, Isaac O. Stringer. In 1918, Chief Isaac was surprised and pleased to learn that Mrs. Bompas had bequeathed him her husband's watch. Ten years later, during an Anglican Synod, Chief Isaac presented Bishop Stringer with his grandfather's stone hunting knife. Source: HAMMERSTONES, A History of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in by Helen Dobrowolsky
Moosehide Village - Christmas Celebrations in 1924
Source: Dawson Weekly News-Friday, January 11, 1924
Moosehide, the colourful home of the Montezumas of the Klondike, was the scene of picturesque and dramatic performances last evening, or, rather, last night, as the show throughout the period usually alloted to sleep to place.
Chief Isaac, the grand sachem of the Moosehide tribe, and his braves and belles, comprising the real blood and sinew of Yukon's first peoples, gave their white friends a grand welcome and put on for their delectation numerous historic tribal performances.
The urge to visit Moosehide last night was the annual Christmas Tree party of the tribe. In order not to conflict with the holidays of their white friends in Dawson, the Moosehide people deferred their tree until after the usual Yuletide and New Year functions were concluded within the heart of the gold metropolis. But when the Moosehide celebration did come it made one worth writing home about.
Rev. Benjamin Totty, the Anglican missionary at Moosehide, and Mrs. Totty, daughter of the most famous of Yukon's pioneers, the late Captain Al Mayo, were in charge of the Christmas tree functions, and entertained a number of their friends from Dawson at supper prior to the tree, and served refreshments again later in the evening. Bishop and Mrs. Stringer headed the party of visitors, about fifteen of whom went down in a large police sleigh drawn by four horses, and supplied through the courtesy of Captain Richard Field, acting Commander of the RCMP in Yukon, and Mrs. Field, who went along in charge during the ride and lent much life and spirit to the evening.
The Christmas tree was held in the old building which was erected in 1897, by the late Bishop Bompass, and still renders good service. The tree was brilliant with all sorts of gay decorations, candles and gifts.
After brief preliminary remarks by Bishop Stringer and Rev. Totty, the Indians sang several Christmas carols in English and the native Takudth tongue. They proved splendid singers and showed that they had been well trained and have good voices and musical talent.
The distributions of gifts then took place. The little hall was crowded with natives and the white visitors, and the faces of every little child and elder members of the Moosehides beamed with delight as Santa Claus came bounding through the door, clad in his bright red suit, with snowy beard. He was the most versatile and agile Santa Claus that ever came over the trail. When he entered he apparently was very tired, but as the gifts started to come from the tree and he personally delivered them, he warmed up, and soon was 100 percent thawed out, and then the fun began. Santa did the alaman all by himself, danced a grotesque step all his own, cake-walked, gyrated, sidestepped and clogged up and down the little room, and had a handshake and a word for everyone receiving a gift.
When finally a little box of candy came to Santa himself, he became fairly delirious for a few minutes, and executed a fantastic tribal dance. Then the gift making went on, and after that brief addresses, story telling, and songs made up and informal program. Those speaking and expressing their facilitations over the happy gathering included Bishop Stringer, Constable Lindesay J. Brian, Chief Isaac, Sam Smith, and others. Mrs. Stringer told a delightful story of how the Eskimos observed their first Christmas celebration at Herschel Island, when there was not a tree within 100 miles and they had to make a tree of poles and barrel hoops, and how she, herself, was the "First Santa" there, as the men folks were in charge of the program and there was no other white person in the region who could assume the role.
"Santa Claus" then was called upon, and he sang a Christmas carol, and concluded by leading the singing of "Happy Day", in the Indian tongue, and accompanied the vocal efforts with such original contortions that he put any college yell leader to shame. This Santa was none other than "Happy Jack" of the Moosehides, and he danced, jigged, and threw himself in such fantastic fashion as he led in the wild song that cheer after cheer greeted him. The other Indians joined with him, and when the singing was concluded the visitors declared they had discovered the origin of the college yell.
After that the whites all sang "Good night, Ladies", and a farewell to the native hosts and entertainers, and concluded with a verse, "Good night, Santa Claus", and, as the last vibrant notes died away, Santa gracefully backed out the door, and was gone.
The next big event then was the dancing in Johnathon Wood's cabin, a large place. By that time about fifty more white friends of the Indians arrived from Dawson, and the seats about the wall were crowded. Chief Isaac, master of ceremonies, arrayed in gorgeous beaded coat, as designed by his wife, announced that the young men of the tribe would dance as did their fathers 2,000 years ago, in war dances and celebrations. Five young members of the tribe came in, gorgeously arrayed in fantastic costumes, and did many strange and weird dances, including the Moosehide dance, the Ross River dance, the Coffee Creek dance, the MacKenzie River dance, the Selkirk dance, the Tanana dance, the Eagle dance, the duck dance, the caribou dance, the fish dance, and others. The singing was incessant while the men danced, and some of the young ladies from town were momentarily alarmed when the braves leaped near them, but it was all over in a second. More agile dancers never were seen, and they were at times prone on the floor, and at others cutting circles in the air. The Indian dancers were: Jimmy Wood, John Titus, Alfred Titus, Stanley Roberts, and Charlie Isaac son of the chief.
After that Mrs. Stringer requested to sing a song in "Husky", the Eskimo. She said she could not sing, but would show how the Huskies danced. They always danced in pairs and the women keep their feet on the floor, while the men leaped as high as possible. For this reason it was necessary for the Bishop to assist in the demonstration, and there was great merriment as Mrs. Stringer moved swiftly about the floor without raising her feet, and the Bishop beat a pom pom, and stepped as high, wide and handsome as he could. After that Jimmy Wood and Mrs. Smith and others demonstrated the jig dance, a continuous performance, and several others demonstrated the jig dance, a continuous performance, and several others special steps concluded the special dances of the evening. The Indians then took over the dances, and fox trots, square dances and waltzes were the order until 3:00 in the morning. Most of the white visitors left at 10:30 p.m.
"Santa Claus all gone now" said the Chief. "No come back till next year. He was pretty good. He know in this country I own all things, gold, silver, fish, meat, and fur. I own all Mayo and Keno Hill. Any my father own it before me."