Traditional Way of Life
The Han people inhabited the central western Yukon and eastern Alaska for several thousands of years. Their land spans areas of the Yukon River from the mouth of the Stewart River to the mouth of the Klondike River including the Yukon River`s tributaries back to their headwaters.(Han Indians, P. 4)
"The Han were very fortunate in their territory, as it contained large amounts of game, as well as having a dependable annual supply of salmon during the summer. These people were riverine, depending on the salmon more than any other food. In fact "Han", a native word by which this group was known to other tribes, can be roughly translated as: people of the river".
...Spring was spent on the banks of the Yukon River, preparing all necessary materials and implements for the summer fishing season, including such items as canoes, fish nets, fish weirs, etc., and in repairing houses. Summer was spent fishing, drying the catch, tanning moose and caribou skins from animals killed during the winter hunt, hunting and drying game and picking berries. In September, the Han moved inland, upstream along the Yukon River tributaries to construct and repair caribou corrals, into which they drove the animals during the winter caribou migration. Most game caught during the fall hunt was cached for winter use. In mid-October, after the brief hunt, the Han returned to the river camps, spending the next few months sewing winter clothing, hunting in the area, and bringing in meat from the caches to feed the people. Usually by January, the people had returned inland for the winter caribou hunt, which lasted until March, when preparation for the fishing season began once again.
In addition to the staple foods of salmon and caribou, the Han ate moose, mountain sheep, ducks, geese, swans, bear, rabbits, porcupine, grayling, whitefish, and most other game, as well as a few plant foods. Raven, wolf, and dog were taboo. Wolverine was seldom eaten. Some animals, such as fox, otter and lynx were eaten only in times of hunger. The otter, in particular, was seen as a "death food".
The Han focus on river life meant that the people lived a more sedentary life than most neighboring tribes. This in turn led to the development of moss houses, semi-subterranean dwellings made of wood and dirt, built at fish camps. The Han were one of the few Yukon tribes who developed permanent villages. When traveling, the people lived in a movable skin house, common to most Northern Athapaskan groups."(Han Indians, P.6)
"...Religion was an integral part of Han life. Potlatches associated with birth, puberty, and death all had religious significance. The actions of each individual were governed by taboos, based on religion. Warriors, new parents, nursing mothers, adolescent children, widows and widowers all had to observe certain taboos in accordance with their particular situation.
The coming of the whites changed many of these traditions. Because of epidemics, the marriage system broke down before the Gold Rush. Many religious observances were abandoned in the decades before the Gold Rush."(Han Indians, P. 8)
"The Han people live along the Yukon River and its tributaries north of Dawson City. The mainstay of their pre-contact economy was salmon. The Han gathered in large groups along the river during summer to harvest, smoke and dry salmon. In winter they broke into smaller family units to hunt for game. The Han were the people most affected by the Klondike Goldrush. Today, they are concentrated in Dawson City where the band operates the Han Fisheries salmon processing plant."(The Yukon at a Glance, p. 5)
The Han`s first contact with Europeans occurred between the late 1700`s and 1840`s at the time of the Russian and Hudson Bay fur traders established their trading posts. The First Nation people after the turn of the century moved their village from the mouth of the Klondike River to the Moosehide Reserve, 3 miles from Dawson City.
Moosehide was designated a reserve in 1902. In the 1950`s the First Nations people moved into the City of Dawson and became an integral part of the economic community.