Travelling 5000km from the Yukon, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers Set to Perform at the 2015 Pan Am Games

Photo: Ryan Edwardson

The Pan Am Games in Toronto aren’t all about sports. There’s plenty of art and culture featured too.

At the Aboriginal Pavilion, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers are performing onstage this week, as part of the 17-day celebration of Indigenous arts, culture and sports festival running parallel to the Pan Am Games. The group is a traditional Inland Tlingit dance and drumming group based in The Yukon. They performed at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and just won a national tourism award.

“We are really honoured to be here,” says Marilyn Jensen, group leader for the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers. “We are representing our nations, our families, our clans, and our communities back in the Yukon.”

The group performs at tonight’s Opening Night Showcase from 7-9pm, followed by full length shows this Friday and Saturday afternoons. Spectators can expect a lively performance of traditional dancing, singing, drumming, and story-telling, sometimes with audience interaction (“we get them dancing!”). As Jensen says, she hopes that audience will leave feeling inspired and entertained, as well as with a greater “awareness of who we are, as indigenous people and as Yukon First Nations.”

“We are honoured to represent our nations back in the Yukon”: Marilyn Jensen, group leader (Photo: Ryan Edwardson)

“We tell stories through our songs and interpret the legends,” Jensen says. “We’ve newly introduced mask dancing, which is something that our ancestors did a long time ago.”

During performances, the dancers wear handmade regalia and colourful masks depicting significant figures that appear in traditional tales, such as raven, eagle, wolf, killer whale, seal.

Photo: Ryan Edwardson

“Raven is really integral to our stories,” says Jensen. “He was responsible for the creation of the world. He’s a very noble character, but at the same time, he’s a trickster. You’ll see that we have Eagle – he is very regal and always the responsible one.”

Wearing full regalia, the group dances across the stage, acting out legends and stories that have been passed down throughout generations.

“One story that we depict in our dances is how Raven brought light to the world,” says Jensen. “So sometimes we have a giant carved sun path that will be lifted while Raven is dancing to represent that story.”

Photo: Ryan Edwardson

Since forming in 2007, the group has grown from six to twenty-five members representing the Inland Tlingit communities: Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Teslin Tlingit Council, Taku River Tlingit, Kluane First Nation and the Kwanlin Dun First Nation. The common thread between all of the members is their Inland Tlingit ancestry. And recently, the group has expanded to include a children’s dancing group, so kids can have fun and learn about their culture.

“A part of our responsibility is to teach the other generation and pass it on,” Jensen says.

Photo: Ryan Edwardson

What’s next for the group? After the Pan Am Games, the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers will be performing Folk on the Rocks in Yellowknife (July 17-19) at the Hà Kus Teyea Celebration in Teslin, Yukon.

“There’s lots of groups coming from Alaska, BC, and the Yukon,” says Jensen. “We’re going to dance and feast together, and just have a lot of fun.”

Of course, attending the festival requires travelling to the Yukon, which Jensen jokingly warns can be “dangerous” because so many tourists end up staying permanently.

“The Yukon captures your soul,” she says. “It’s so beautiful and it’s so wild. It’s very peaceful and quiet, and the people are wonderful and beautiful. Our First Nations are very strong in the Yukon Territory, and also very welcoming. If you come visit in the Yukon, you’re going to love it.”

To plan your visit to the Yukon, check out Travel Yukon’s website. For more ideas and inspiration, read our past adventures here.

Photo: Ryan Edwardson

Upcoming Performances by the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers at the 2015 Pan Am Games

Show are free and open to the public.

Thursday July 16, 2015
Opening Night Showcase
Main Stage, Aboriginal Pavilion (Fort York)

Friday July 17, 2015
West Stage, Aboriginal Pavilion (Fort York)

Saturday July 18, 2015
Ontario’s Celebration Zone (Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West)

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