The Kandik Map

The Kandik Map

by Linda Johnson


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In 1880, a Native American named Paul Kandik and a French explorer, François Mercier, traveled across northeastern Alaska and western Canada to create the earliest known map of the region. Linda Johnson now delves into the fascinating story behind the Kandik Map, examining the reasons why and how these two men from such different backgrounds combined their extensive knowledge of the country to map the Kandik River region. Drawing on historical letters, geographical analysis, and the original map itself held in the University of California’s Bancroft Library, Johnson produces a groundbreaking study on the history of the Kandik Map and reveals its significant implications for Native American scholarship.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602230422
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Pages: 231
Sales rank: 1,185,984
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Linda Johnson was director of library, archives, and records management at Yukon College. She lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

Read an Excerpt

The Kandik Map

By Linda Johnson

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2009 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-032-3

Chapter One

The Kandik Map: Reflections on Time and Space

Travelers Today drive through the winter snows or summer splendor of the Alaska-Yukon borderlands on the Alaska Highway, going from one warm, well-lit community to the next in just a few hours, with the certainty of groceries, gas stations, motels, emergency care, and year-round residents to offer survival, communication, and comfort on a continuing basis. In summer, the more adventurous can hike the Fortymile uplands, fly into Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve to kayak on a wild creek, or cruise from Dawson to Eagle on a high-tech catamaran, while winter explorers can follow the Yukon Quest Trail by snowmobile or dog team along the frozen Yukon River. Both longtime residents and newly arrived visitors may marvel at the services available to travelers in this vast land, asking who built these roads and communities, who passed this way before, and who lives here now and why. Few travelers, whether Native or nonnative resident of Alaska or Yukon, or recent visitor, will know or learn that this is the Kandik Map country-the land where an Indian man called Paul Kandik and a French Canadian named François Mercier lived and traveled more than a hundred years ago, combining their knowledge in 1880 to create the earliest known map of the area. Why have their story and their contributions to the cartographic knowledge of this region faded into obscurity? What can we learn today about their lives, their map, and the significance of their contributions? Where and how can their stories be found? What does it mean to revive a document-to bring new life to the stories surrounding it? Who will listen and what will they learn?

Discovering the North: Story Lines and Camps

"Discovering" and "building" the modern North have long been central themes in popular and academic writing about Alaska and the Yukon, with stories of the heroic deeds of past generations of explorers and settlers commemorated in books, songs, plays, television and radio programs, monuments, road signs, maps, and visitor brochures. Most of this historical reflection has focused on the lives and work of nonnative newcomers, celebrating the first white man to cross the Chilkoot Pass, the first white woman to winter in the Fortymile, the first white baby born in the North, and other "first" passages through river valleys, mountain passes, seasons, and epochs. These "first northerners" are represented as true pioneers, enduring brutal extremes of cold, hunger, mosquitoes, isolation, and sometimes hostile Native peoples, to discover the North and transform its wild spaces from "terra incognita" into "known" places and "civilized" communities marked on maps and described in reports. Often the exploits recorded about and information gathered by these "first" newcomers were possible only with assistance from resident Native guides for whom this knowledge was a matter of everyday wisdom passed down from countless generations of ancestors. The names of those Native guides were seldom recorded, their contributions often unacknowledged by the newcomers whom they assisted, sometimes because of communication and translation difficulties which rendered their Native names "unpronounceable," sometimes owing to ethnocentric attitudes common among newcomers who dismissed their guides' concerns regarding the dangers of routes proposed or season of travel, and often because explorers were hungry to claim the "discoverer's" right to fame and publicity. The information transmitted in records and sketches by early explorers and officials was assumed to be correct by virtue of their being reputable "authorities"-usually the agents of national governments, either military personnel or civilian surveyors, or of religious and commercial organizations allied in the cause of discovering and exploiting the resources of the North. In turn those authoritative claims to discovery and knowledge have informed the opinions of several successive generations of writers and scholars, building up an enormous body of information about northern lands and peoples, presumed to be accurate by the sheer weight of accumulated time, talent, and evidence.

The stories told through northern highway signs and maps, visitor brochures, museum exhibits, walking tours, and community residents vary from place to place, and may differ from those of "outside" specialists and scholars. Most of these stories lead down certain well-blazed trails, repeating facts, ideas, themes, and conclusions long embedded in oral traditions, archival records, and literature, but often separated in distinctive story "camps," based on the different linguistic, cultural, and memory traditions of various resident northerners and "outside" commentators. These story "camps" reflect debates within and outside of Alaska and the Yukon about the origins, history, ownership, purpose, meanings, and development of the region, topics which have been the focus of both community discussions and scholarly discourse for a very long time.

Recovering the North: New Sources and More Perspectives

In recent decades, the variety, sources, and audiences for these stories have been expanding, with new recording, duplication, and broadcasting technologies, plus political and scholarly developments, supporting the emergence and documentation of oral traditions and community histories to clarify, enlarge, and enrich the concepts of northern life. Some key events and subsequent shifts in perception have assisted this process-notably the deliberate decisions and ongoing efforts of aboriginal language speakers, tradition bearers, and indigenous organizations throughout Alaska and the Yukon to document and share their knowledge with a broad public beyond their original communities. In storytelling festivals, land claims negotiations, pipeline hearings, climate change testimonials, publications, radio and television broadcasts, films, and a host of other venues, Elders and other Native people communicate their perspectives about issues affecting their lands, their lives, their cultures and histories, and their dreams for future generations. Native authors are bringing important family and community stories to public notice. Books such as Adeline Peter Raboff's Inuksuk masterfully combine oral traditions and documentary sources to tell a powerful history, with linguistic and cultural contexts rarely available to people outside Native communities.

Nonnative commentators have provided significant intellectual and contextual support for these efforts as well, contributing to a new public receptivity for the stories of indigenous people both in the North and in the world beyond-a legitimacy that is long overdue and difficult to achieve in the face of overwhelming historical and socioeconomic pressures. Canadian Justice Thomas Berger's reports, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland and Village Journey, delineated many of the factors contributing to the historical and conceptual gulf between indigenous and newcomer perspectives that frustrated comprehensive community approaches to northern issues for many years. He provided a social justice and scientific policy rationale for considering indigenous knowledge for the benefit of all northerners and outsiders with an interest in the North. Julie Cruikshank worked with Yukon Athabaskan women to record and publish their stories in Life Lived Like a Story, offering a new lens for viewing events such as the Klondike Gold Rush and the building of the Alaska Highway as experienced and interpreted by these women. Other community histories also contribute to a more nuanced and multicultural understanding of northern history-l'Association franco-yukonnaise has published several books documenting the lives of francophones in the North, while Alaskan family histories such as Judy Ferguson's Parallel Destinies give voice to settlers of east European origins and their integration within their new homeland. Numerous local history projects in Alaska and the Yukon offer similar insider stories and culturally constructed northern viewpoints that go beyond, and often challenge or even contradict, the perennial versions of historical events, their consequences and meanings.

In The Social Life of Stories, Cruikshank reexamined several Yukon historical episodes that form the foundation for much of the popular and scholarly writing about the Klondike Gold Rush, comparing the two separate story lines handed down in Native and nonnative traditions. By recording and publishing the stories of the Tagish man Keish with his niece Angela Sidney, Cruikshank provided details of his background and motivations as George Washington Carmack's partner on Bonanza Creek that contribute many new meanings to the events of 1896. He was no longer simply Skookum Jim as portrayed at the time by William Ogilvie, who questioned him closely to assess the truthfulness of his claim to the original discovery of gold, and later writers like Pierre Berton, who repeated Ogilvie's version and added many more accounts from nonnative stampeders. Sidney's history tells about Keish's family concerns for a missing sister which caused him to make the long trip from Tagish to the Klondike, his spiritual beliefs and practices which led him to rescue a frog who later appeared to him in a dream to guide his discovery of gold, and his care for his family and clan after the Gold Rush that motivated his spending of the wealth accrued from his role in starting the "greatest gold rush in history." It is an altogether different window on the times, a departure from the oft-repeated tales, and a fascinating entrée into the world of Tagish people. It is an essential component of the event that changed the Yukon forever, but it was inaccessible to all but Tagish speakers and a few others in the Yukon First Nations community who could understand and appreciate this other view of Keish and his actions. Over time it became inaccessible to younger generations even in that community, as English replaced the Tagish language, and traditional beliefs were discounted and discouraged by missionaries, schools, and the new dominant society in the North. For decades Keish and his Frog Helper story were locked in the linguistic and cultural solitude of his traditional community, separated from mainstream historical interpretation, only vaguely acknowledged in nonnative accounts of the Gold Rush. After the story was documented and readily available, many accounts persisted in retelling the story of "Who found the Klondike gold?" as the Carmack-Henderson saga of a century ago.

A similar focus on nonnative "discovery" stories predominates for the borderlands region of Alaska-Yukon, with numerous reports from the nineteenth century and subsequent twentieth-century history books, detailing the exploits of Hudson's Bay Company men like Robert Campbell and Alexander Hunter Murray, the dedicated sacrifices of missionaries like Archdeacon Robert McDonald and Bishop Bompas traveling in the wilds to bring the word of God to Native people, the daring and dangerous river and overland explorations of Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka and Lieutenant Henry Allen, and the tough prospecting voyages of Jack McQuesten, Arthur Harper, Al Mayo, and Joe Ladue. Morgan Sherwood's book Exploration of Alaska, written in the 1960s, illustrates the progression from the published reports and archival records of nineteenth-century explorers to later historians' writing about the events. In turn both the period and later retelling of those stories informed public perceptions of those times and places, leading to the naming of highways and other commemorations that further reinforced the idea of nonnative "discovery" of the region.

Sherwood's retelling of the "discovery" of the Tanana River is a case in point. In the chapter entitled "The Remarkable Journey of Henry Allen" he praised Allen's prowess in surmounting incredible odds on several fronts-first in dealing shrewdly with local Native people to hire them as packers and guides, and then as "first discoverer" for his trip up the Copper, over to the Tanana, and down to the Yukon. Sherwood celebrated Allen's victories in completing "an original exploration of about 1,500 miles, an exploration that crossed the Alaska Range ... [charting] three major river systems ... for the first time." He quoted Mendenhall: "No one geographer in recent years has made greater contributions to our knowledge of the Territory in so limited a time in the face of such obstacles." Sherwood concluded that Allen's voyage "ranks with the earlier investigations of Alexander Mackenzie and Robert Campbell in the Far Northwest and was certainly the most spectacular individual achievement in the history of Alaskan inland exploration." Allen was guided by the knowledge and advice of Native people he met throughout the region, and was saved from starvation and disaster on several occasions by Native women and men who offered his party food and lodging. Allen himself reported their assistance, for the most part in grateful recognition of the essential help offered by them, shaded with some typical nineteenth-century grumblings about the prices charged for food and services in the northern wilderness. 29 Later commentators overlooked the Native helpers he named or relegated them to minor inconsequential roles.

The combined effect of nineteenth-century and later historical writing on northern communities has been profound in the past, leading to imbalance in commemorative naming and interpretation and school curricula that overlooked Native contributions, as well as more serious political battles over land ownership and resource allocations. Recent linguistic documentation and other projects conducted by Native organizations and others in Alaska and the Yukon have contributed new data and perspectives based on oral traditions. The process of recording oral traditions to enlarge the available historical narrative is complicated by modern social conditions in indigenous communities. Rapid, profound, and pervasive socioeconomic changes have accumulated over the past century-resulting in the diaspora of younger people from traditional villages to disparate urban settings, separations between constituent groups of traditional linguistic and cultural communities with the demarcation of international borderlines, and the imposition of new belief systems and values by church and state authorities.

The Social Life of a Northern Document

All of these themes are significant factors in the unveiling of the Kandik Map and in discovering more information about the lives of its creators-the "social life" of the document they created. The two distinctive story "camps" figure in this documentary saga. Paul Kandik's identity and legacy reside solely in the one map bearing his name, supported by oral traditions for the northern Athabaskan community as a whole, but without any additional extant records specific to him. François Mercier's legacy is steadily growing with more documentary and oral sources emerging through linkages between the modern francophone community in the Yukon and his original home in Québec, aided by modern information technologies that make it possible to "Google" Mercier across vast distances, between different linguistic traditions, and beyond national boundaries. Mercier shares a heritage with Kandik in being part of a minority group in the North, soon overtaken and eventually pushed out of the fur-trading business he so proudly represented for over sixteen years in Alaska and the Yukon. His experience in Alaska-Yukon is a mirror to that of French Canadian history in the American West where place-names like Coeur d'Alene linger as artifacts, their origins lost in translation to successive generations of American settlers with no linguistic affinity to the names, nor means to access information about the people they represent from earlier times.

The information Kandik and Mercier recorded was transported to distant places, stored and forgotten for many decades, so that now it is scarcely recognizable by present generations in either northern Native or Québec communities. The map at the Bancroft Library is an archival orphan today-isolated from context, separated from both of its original linguistic and cultural traditions. Peeling back the layers of obscurity surrounding its creation, meaning, and purpose has revealed extensive information about Mercier; we hope the same will hold true for Kandik over time. Meanwhile modern information technology fosters wide circulation and discussion of the map, its creators, and its possibilities for regenerating community knowledge, pride, and continuity, plus new connections between the descendents of the two cultures that created it, as well as all travelers in the region in years to come. Perhaps the names of Kandik and Mercier will be added to highway signs, interpretive talks, and brochures in future-so that they receive credit for the trails they blazed for others who came later. The Kandik Map has potential for "recovering" the North-for both those whose homeland it is and always was, and those for whom it was a frontier and now is home.


Excerpted from The Kandik Map by Linda Johnson Copyright © 2009 by University of Alaska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1        The Kandik Map: Reflections on Time and Space

Discovering the North: Story Lines and Camps

Recovering the North: New Sources and More Perspectives

The Social Life of a Northern Document


2        Searching for Paul Kandik

Mapping an Identity

Words and Sounds: Reading and Listening for the Past


3        Documenting a Mystery

Tracking the Names Paul and Kandik

First Meetings: The Hudson’s Bay Company Period

The American Trade and Exploration Period

Big Paul: Pilot on the Upper Yukon

Government Records and the Gold Rush Era



4        François Mercier: Agent of Change

François Mercier: Early Years in the American West and Alaska

Time of Change: The Legacy of the Old Monopolies

The American Takeover: With French Canadian Traders

More Change on the Yukon

The Summer of 1880: The Census and the Kandik Map

Back to the Hän Country Again


5        Mapping the North: Where the Kandik Map Fits In

Unveiling the North

Defining the Boundary



6        Meetings and Meanings

Using Space and Knowing Place

Meetings, Meanings, and Motivations

Stories of the Kandik Map



Appendix, Chart of Place Names


Selected Bibliography

Unpublished and Archival Sources

Customer Reviews