Educating the North

Educating the North

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Yukon College instructor Amanda Graham discusses life in the territory

This story originally ran in the Fall 2014 (V8I3) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.


Name: Amanda Graham

Place of Residence: Whitehorse

Occupation: Instructor of Northern Studies and History for the School of Liberal Arts at Yukon College.

How long have you lived in the Yukon? Twenty-nine years.

What brought you here? A former coworker moved back here, encouraged me to visit, and offered nearly free accommodation as bait. I only meant to be here for a summer. What keeps you here? I really love what I’m doing and participating in. I like being able to see the big picture. More practically, I have rather a lot of books now, and moving seems like too much work.

Settle the debate for us: What makes someone a “real” Yukoner? Oh, goodness! When I first arrived I was told it involved fearsome trials (swimming, kissing, wrestling, and peeing, if I recall) and really long residency. (There were some really heated arguments over whether it was 30 or 40 years.) Now? I guess I’d say it’s someone who imagines his or her next job here rather than somewhere else.

What’s the biggest tall tale you’ve told friends or family in the South about life in the North? I substituted a description of Dawson City for Whitehorse, but that was before I joined on at Yukon College. I can’t really do that any more. Mostly, I just exaggerate the cold and dark a teensy bit.

How do you get your friends or family in the South to come visit? Good question. I’d like to learn how, actually. I haven’t enticed a visitor from the South in years. I figure I’m going to have to go and fetch them.

Who is your favourite Yukon character of all time? It’s a what, actually. The Raven, first, but a close second is any of illustrator Chris Caldwell’s fabulous critters. You just have to smile when you see them.

I wouldn’t change ____ for all the gold in the Klondike. The last 29 years.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in the territory? The two fabulous culinary experiences put on last year by Yukon College’s Culinary Arts and Food and Beverage Management instructors and students. There were two dinners a couple of weeks apart: one paired with wines, and the other paired with Yukon Brewing beer. Both were superb.

"I REALLY LOVE WHAT I'M DOING AND PARTICIPATING IN. I LIKE BEING ABLE TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE."

What’s one thing about the Yukon that more of us should take advantage of? The really good beer.

What’s your favourite piece of little known Yukon trivia? The Yukon First Nations land claim negotiations were initially imagined to be about three months' work. (Editor’s Note: The process took roughly 20 years. It commenced in 1973, and the Umbrella Final Agreement was eventually signed in 1993.)

What do you wish more Canadians knew about life here? That Whitehorse is not another name for Yellowknife or vice versa.

Where is your favourite place in the territory? I’m surprised by how hard this question is to answer. I looked through my computer's desktop pictures, and the ones that say “Yukon” to me most loudly are of Kathleen Lake—where you get just around the point so you can’t see the cars.

What’s the best up-close-and-personal encounter you’ve had with the local wildlife? The best was a black bear a group of us saw sitting on the highway between Burwash and Haines Junction around Thanksgiving one year. We watched it for a time, then it staggered to its feet and wobbled off. We decided it was probably inebriated from fermented berries. The coolest ever, though, was being allowed to sink my hand into the wool on the side of a muskox at the University of Alaska. There’s a lot of wool.

You’re on the phone to a friend from the Outside. No one from the government is listening. Do you say “Yukon” or “The Yukon”? The Yukon.

When the cold and dark gets to you,where do you go to recharge? Canada Games Centre, in Whitehorse. My job makes it pretty much impossible to leave the territory from September to April.

Dog mushing or snowmobiling? Mushing.

How cold is too cold? Minus 5°C in September, –40°C in the dead of winter, and +8°C in June.

What author, musician, band, or artist from the territory do you think should be more famous? This is a hard question.I have friends in all those categories. So, singling one out? I can’t do it. They all should be more famous.

You’ve just won a huge jackpot at Diamond Tooth Gerties Casino, and you have 24 hours to spend it in the Yukon. Where are you headed? Herschel Island.

Finally, what does “The Spell of the Yukon” mean to you personally? The breathing room. The nature. The diversity of peoples, mountains, dry fish, dogs, the Millennium Trail, fireweed … the list goes on. Y


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