The Loucheux Indians of Old Crow, who moved their whole settlement 40 miles into the Yukon when they found, in 1905, they were living in Alaska, at long last are reaping the rewards of their loyalty.
As of March 11, Old Crow will have a post office and twice-monthly mail service through Dawson City, 240 miles south - and for the first time, its people will use Canadian, not American, stamps on their letters.
Nor is that all. Work has started on a new log school, Old Crow's first federal day school, and by fall Loucheux children will be starting classes in the new building. Until now, the Anglican and Roman Catholic missions have provided the settlement's only schools.
In the meantime, cutting of the logs and construction of the school building is providing employment for many of the settlement's males.
ONLY 700 LEFT
Originally, there were about 3,000 Loucheux in the north. They are actually members of a tribe known as the Kutchin Indians; the name "Loucheux" was given them by early French-Canadian traders and means "Squint-Eyes," a reference to their partially-Oriental features.
Today only about 700 true Loucheux are left, 180 of them in Old Crow, the rest in Aklavik, Fort McPherson and Arctic Red River in the Northwest Territories and in Alaska. Intermarriage with whites has been frequent and the hardship of their daily lives has taken a heavy toll.
Old Crow, nestling in a valley of the towering Richardson Range, 125 miles south of the Arctic coast and 40 miles east of the Alaska-Yukon boundary, was first established on the Porcupine River west of the boundary.
When the boundary between Canada and Alaska was finally established in 1903, Old Crow was found to be inside the Alaska border. It took two years for the residents of Old Crow themselves to find out; when they did they moved in a body to their present site, at the junction of the Old Crow and Porcupine Rivers, to retain their Canadian citizenship.
Today, Old Crow has only eight whites; two Roman Catholic missionaries, an Anglican minister and his wife, who is a doctor, two RCMP officers, a retired trapper and a clerk in a trading post operated by Mike Krutko of Fort McPherson, 130 miles southeast. By law, no other whites or Eskimos are allowed to settle there.
The mountains which ring Old Crow - some go up to 8,500 feet - make it one of the most isolated settlements in all of Canada. Mail, until now, came in from Fort Yukon, Alaska, once a month by plane; outbound mail was handled by the Fort Yukon post office and had to bear American stamps.
Mike Krutko's single-engined Stinson aircraft visits Old Crow once a month - if the weather is good - and in summer two river boats struggle up the Porcupine with the settlement's heavy supplies. Aside from the mailplane, Krutko and the river boats, Old Crow has few visitors except an occasional government man.
Old Crow was all but unknown outside the north until the Second World War. Then, during the Battle of Britain, Chief Peter Moses heard of the ordeals suffered by bombed-out families.
Chief Peter, now retired, went to his people and told them the story. Within a few weeks they had contributed hundreds of dollars to help bombing victims, even though the people of Old Crow have little money of their own. Not until the money was all collected and turned over to the police to be sent overseas did Old Crow's whites even know the campaign was on.
A grateful King George VI bestowed the Order of the British Empire on Peter Moses - and three years ago, Governor-General Vincent Massey, who had seen to the distribution of the funds in Britain, added his own personal gift to the wiry old hunter and trapper; a new pair of steel-rimmed spectacles to replace a pair the chief had broken.
In the last three years, Old Crow has been haunted by the spectre of starvation; the caribou migration routes have changed and although caribou are fairly plentiful in the Yukon the herds have travelled far to the north. Two winters ago many families nearly starved because they were too proud to accept the emergency rations the RCMP offered them. Only when they were told the food would be in the form of a loan, to be repaid, would they take it.
Old Crow's Canadian mail received its start last year when Prime Minister Diefenbaker was travelling in the Yukon. In a casual conversation, one of his hosts told him the story of Old Crow and its American postage, and of the people whose loyalty was a shining example to the rest of Canada.
The prime minister made his announcement there and then; Old Crow would have a post office
There were many complications involved, not the least of them being that Canadian postal rates in the Far North are considerably higher than those in Alaska, and a Canadian service would impose a hardship, not a blessing, on Old Crow at the prevailing rates.
Now, when a single-engined bush plane of Dawson Airways makes its first mail trip in March, first class mail up to eight ounces in weight will go by letter rate and parcel post will travel at the rate of 20 cents for the first pound and 15 cents for each additional pound or fraction.
Parcel post rate to Fort Smith, on the Alberta-N.W.T. boundary, is 50 cents for the first pound and 45 cents for each additional pound.)
All told, providing a postmaster and post office for Old Crow, as well as subsidizing its mail, will cost the Canadian government about $50,000 per year. As far as the government is concerned, it will be money well spent on an obscure little settlement of which every Canadian
can be proud.