Welcome to Old Crow

'Drin gwiinzii': Paul Josie and his family welcome visitors to their remote community in northern Yukon.

Photo: Eric Pinkerton Photography

Photo: Eric Pinkerton Photography

The year was 1963. Edith Josie, born in Alaska but now living across the border in a remote Yukon community overlooking the Porcupine River, began a career as a journalist for the Whitehorse Star.

Her work, a regular column on the goings on of her community, named simply Here Are The News, earned her many accolades over the years, including being inducted into the Order of Canada in 1995. Her beloved column was syndicated throughout the country and eventually translated around the world.

For nearly four decades, Edith faithfully filed her column, handwritten and flown by plane to Whitehorse, bringing the essence of the remote northern community of Old Crow and of the Vuntut Gwitch'in First Nation to the world.

Today her grandson is continuing the tradition of connection but this time welcoming the world to Old Crow.

The Josie Family (from left to right): Paul, Bree, and their daughters Sreevyàa and Tl’yah Tr’an

The Josie Family (from left to right): Paul, Bree, and their daughters Sreevyàa and Tl’yah Tr’an

Located above the Arctic Circle, Old Crow is the furthest northwestern community in Canada, sitting nearly at the Alaska border. It is Yukon's only fly-in community and its population oscillates between 230 and 250, depending on the season.

Although it is possible to access the community by river and, sometimes, by ice road, the easiest way is to come by plane (Air North offers regular service). The kilometre-long airstrip sits just behind the community — a lifeline to the outside world.

With no outside roads, vehicles are scarce in Old Crow. Most people use skidoos and 4-wheelers to get around and some still travel the traditional Gwich’in way, by dogsled.

Paul Josie and his wife Bree are owners of Josie's Old Crow Adventures, a company that provides tours and immersive experiences for visitors to Old Crow.

They offer experiences such as dogsledding, Aurora viewing and ice fishing in the colder months as well as land and river tours in the warmer months.

Paul initially launched the business by offering evening tours to people already coming into the community, such as nurses, doctors and government workers, but he now has people flying in specifically for his tours.

Last winter was the busiest season the couple has ever had.

Bree says the allure of the tours lies in the connections visitors are able to make with residents. Guests are fed traditional foods —bannock, soup, tea, fish and meat — and are welcomed into the Josie's home like family.

"It's not just that you come to the community and you get to see the community," Bree tells me. "People are invited into our home...and they will look around and they'll see all of our beadwork that's there and all of our pictures. And then they get an idea of what our life is like and who we are as people."

Bree Josie. Photo: Eric Pinkerton Photography

Bree Josie. Photo: Eric Pinkerton Photography

Much like his grandmother, Paul is proud of his community and excited to show it off to visitors.

He is keeping his grandmother's spirit alive through the stories and experiences he shares with his guests — each one an invitation to experience Gwich'in lifestyle and culture.

Guests are able to book a stay in the 2-bedroom Edith Josie House, which once served as Edith's home and where she penned her famous columns.

"It means the history of my grandmother is tied into our tours as well," Paul says.

"People loved Paul's grandmother," Bree adds. "We have people come specifically to stay in her home."

It is a fitting setting for guests of Paul's immersive tours as Edith, who passed away in 2010, symbolized the good that comes from connection and understanding.

Photo by Paul Josie

Photo by Paul Josie

But Paul also wants his love of the land and culture to be transferred to the next generation of Indigenous youth within his community. Last year he had the chance to take youth out on the land and teach them traditional ways, including dog mushing.

"They loved it," he says, adding that some of the kids have expressed interest in helping him this dogsledding season.

Whereas owning a dog team was once a given for every family in Old Crow, it is now much rarer, with only two families — the Josies and one other — running dogs, Bree says.

"We want to inspire children to learn this part of the culture."

Moon rainbow. Photo by Paul Josie

Moon rainbow. Photo by Paul Josie

Hear Paul speak in his own words about passing along Gwich'in Pride to his daughter Tl’yah Tr’an in this video recorded in 2019. Paul and Bree have since added another little girl, Sreevyàa, to their family.

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