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George Johnston - Tlingit Photographer

George Johnston with Girls Baseball TeamThe construction of the Alaska Highway had, and continues to have, a profound impact on the various First Nations communities whose traditional lands it traverses in northern British Columbia, through the Yukon and into Alaska. Crossing Dene, Tlingit, and Gitskan lands, the Highway brought major cultural, economic, and environmental change that dramatically altered the daily lives of First Nations peoples. In such films as The Gravel Magnet (Why Not Productions, 1998) and in selected documentary photographs, much of this impact is revealed and reflected on.

Hauling Freight on Teslin LakeThe photographs of Tlingit Chief George Johnston presented here provide a compelling record of one First Nations community at this time of incredible transition.

Five Children Playing FuneralGeorge Johnston (Kaash Klaõ, born c. 1884, Nakina River, British Columbia; died 1972) remains an influential figure within the Tlingit community of Teslin, Yukon. A community leader, businessman, hunter, trapper, fisherman and photographer, he maintained critical traditional values within a time of rapid change. Widely known for being one of the first people in the area to acquire a car, he was famous for repainting each season in order for it to blend in with the landscape while hunting. Johnston built his own road, which would eventually be incorporated into the Alaska Highway. His images capture the strength of a community, from the buoyant confidence of the girl’s baseball team to the staid gathering at a funeral. In Inoculation Day, he captures Teslin’s profound dilemma brought on by the Highway's arrival.

In the accompanying video, Picturing a People: George Johnston, Tlingit Photographer, Tlingit filmmaker Carol Geddes gives us an elegant portrait of both Johnston and the community he was such a central figure in.

George Johnston Photograph Gallery
Five Children Playing Funeral Johnston Town Graveyard Funeral Hauling Freight on Teslin Lake George Johnston with Girls Baseball Team
Inoculation Day Installation, Art Gallery of Alberta Installation, Art Gallery of Alberta

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††††††††††† For more on the Alaska Highway, visit Peelís Prairie Provinces.

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