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Edited by Léo-Paul Dana and Robert B. Anderson
Chapter 25: People of the River: The Subsistence Economy of the Han, Athabaskan People of the Upper Yukon River
William E. Simeone Introduction The Han are an Athabaskan-speaking people who live on both sides of the Alaska/Yukon border. The Yukon became a Territory of Canada in 1898. The word ‘Yukon’ means ‘Great river’. Figure 25.1 shows the Coat of Arms of the Yukon Territory. Until the late nineteenth century the Han were hunters and gatherers who trapped for furs, which they bartered for European manufactured goods. Early literature attests to the presence of three Han bands whose territory stretched along the Yukon River from near present-day Circle City, Alaska to the mouth of the Sixtymile River, some 50 miles above Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Most Han now reside in the small community of Eagle Village,1 Alaska and in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. The deﬁning moment in recent Han history was the Klondike gold rush of 1898. More than any other event the gold rush transformed the economy of the upper Yukon valley by subordinating the interests of the Han to those of the gold mining industry and the majority non-Native society. At this point the Han found themselves not only on the economic margins, competing for the animals and ﬁsh that were the basic staples of their existence, but on the edge of society as they became a minority in their own homeland. By 1900, most of the gold seekers had departed for richer ﬁelds, leaving the Han with a residue of disease, dependency and alcoholism. But in the face of this devastation the Han survived and...
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