LONG-HORNED Dall sheep peer at us from hilltops as our group makes its way down the Pelly River. As the captain, William, steers the boat, Teri-Lee Isaac tells us why she began guiding tourists.

Fort Selkirk, where we are headed, is the largest National Historic Site in Canada’s Yukon territory but can only be reached by water. Fine if you have a kayak and stamina, but Isaac, who is Northern Tutchone from the Selkirk First Nation, wanted to open up easier access.

She also sensed a missing link in the visitor experience: the stories of the Indigenous people, including her ancestors, who lived there for thousands of years. Tutchone Tours is her way of offering an Indigenous perspective on a place where history has long been told by its, often Scottish, settlers. Fort Selkirk is a mix of restored and dilapidated log buildings spread across a meadow that was dotted with tall purple fireweed during our July visit. At the confluence of the Pelly and Yukon rivers, evidence of Indigenous inhabitation dates back at least 8000 years.

The traditional Northern Tutchone way of life, based around hunting, gathering and fishing, was disrupted with the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in the mid-1800s.

The remote site, set in a river valley and surrounded by mountains and boreal forest, became one of the busiest places in the Yukon when stampeders descended on the Yukon River during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Those new arrivals, the businessmen, stampeders and soldiers, brought churches, commerce, a school and smallpox and changed Fort Selkirk forever.

The National: Teri-Lee and her partner William SmithTeri-Lee and her partner William Smith

In the 1950s, the site was largely abandoned by its residents when the highway to Dawson City was built on the river’s opposite side. Most Selkirk First Nation members now live in the more easily accessible community of Pelly Crossing, and Fort Selkirk, co-managed by the Yukon Government and Selkirk First Nation, has the feel of a preserved ghost town, its buildings still strewn with rusting cans, bed frames and other fragments of abandoned lives.

After landing, Isaac leads us first to Big Jonathan House. She explains that Big Jonathan Campbell was a greatly respected chief of the Selkirk people who opened up his home to the community for large gatherings such as potlatches and dances.

After his death, his house was taken down as a sign of respect. Years later, it was reconstructed on its original site. It houses interpretive panels explaining the historic social structures of the Northern Tutchone people, albeit through an outsider’s lens. “This was all written by Robert Campbell,” she says.

Born in Perthshire, the explorer and fur trader Robert Campbell established an HBC trading post in Fort Selkirk in 1848. This, says Isaac, was her people’s first encounter with Europeans.

Campbell’s store had all sorts of things they’d never seen before, such as sugar and flour, which they traded for their furs, meat and fish.

The HBC’s arrival ended trade with the Chilkats, Tlingit people from the coast, who had a long history of trading maritime goods for the furs and skins of the Yukon interior. The Chilkats took exception to this. They burned down the HBC post and forced Campbell to flee for his life on a raft (in Isaac’s telling of the story, he was stripped naked).

Campbell was rescued upriver by the Selkirk chief Hanan, father of Big Jonathan, to whom Campbell gave his name in gratitude. “But that name never stuck,” says Isaac. “There are no Campbells in Pelly Crossing, thank God.”

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Isaac’s comment gives me pause. As a Scot living abroad, I feel a tenderness towards the names Campbell and Selkirk. In recent years, however, having travelled extensively with Indigenous people around Canada, that feeling has become complicated.

Spend any time in Canada and you’ll come across places named after Scottish explorers and politicians, from the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories (named after Lewisman Alexander Mackenzie) to Dundas in Ontario.

The legacies of the men for whom these places are named are varied but their names almost always feel incongruous. I think about the deep sense of place carried by many Scottish place names and it feels grimly ironic that, here, Scottish names obstruct that same intertwining of place and language.

As Isaac shows us around the site, she tells us Northern Tutchone legends that have been handed down through generations and about how her ancestors lived off the land.

As I listen, I find it difficult to reconcile these stories of deep cultural and spiritual connection to the land with the distant name of the place and its first people, Selkirk.

As if reading my mind, Isaac explains Fort Selkirk was named after Kircudbright’s Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk, who was a major shareholder in the HBC. “When Robert Campbell came around,”

says Isaac, “he didn’t know this place had a name already – we were the Hucha Hudan people – so he renamed it Fort Selkirk.”

The National: Inside one of Fort Selkirk's remaining buildingsInside one of Fort Selkirk's remaining buildings

Douglas had never even been to the Yukon, she says. “Unfortunately, when we signed our land claims agreement [with the government of Canada in 1998] we stuck with Selkirk, which we really shouldn’t have done.”

Although they can’t reclaim their name, they can reclaim their stories. Isaac is one of many Indigenous people in Canada who are using tourism as a way to advance reconciliation, the ongoing work towards mutual respect between Indigenous and settler communities following the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the residential school system.

Authorised by another Scot, Canada’s first prime minister John A Macdonald, the system removed more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and forced them to abandon their traditions, cultural practices and languages.

One story at a time, Indigenous-led tourism helps to correct established narratives and exposes visitors to the truth of Canada’s complex history. The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, which supports Indigenous tourism businesses, calls Indigenous tourism “reconciliation in action”.

There are not many Indigenous tour operators in Isaac’s part of the Yukon and, she says, at Fort Selkirk, “there’s hardly anything written about First Nations history [but] I think that’s what people are yearning for.”

And that’s where she comes in. Isaac says that, after thinking about it for around 10 years, she finally made the leap and set up her own tour company because, if she didn’t, “no-one would know who we are”.