Heritage, Tradition & Culture
by Shelby Blackjack
March 18, 2011
One of the questions we at First Nations Initiatives were recently asked was, “What is the difference between heritage, tradition and culture?”
Being asked to write about the difference between heritage, tradition and culture is a lot more difficult than I had originally thought, considering this has been my area of focus for the last six or more years. I am not an expert by any means, but I will attempt to define each and provide examples from my life of what they mean to me. Hopefully this helps to answer the question.
What is heritage?
Heritage is something that belongs to you by reason of birth.
I have a very diverse family heritage, with an interesting mix of Northern Tutchone, Norwegian, Swedish, Welsh and Ukrainian. From birth I have been designated a member of the Wolf Clan, this follows the fact that my Father is a member of the Crow Clan which made my non-First Nations Mother a member of the opposite Clan (Wolf Clan) when they were married. *note – not all Yukon First Nations follow this type of Clan system*
What is culture?
Culture is defined as the behaviours and beliefs of a particular social, ethnic, or age group, as well as the ways of living built up by a group, from one generation to another.
My immediate family tries to blend all these different cultures (Northern Tutchone, Norwegian, Swedish, Welsh, and Ukrainian) into our celebrations and holidays in unique ways; we make Ukrainian Easter eggs, moose meat cabbage rolls, and try to mix in a bit of each culture’s traditions into our lives.
What is tradition?
Tradition is the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.
Living in the Yukon, and the proximity of my Father’s family and the traditional sites of the Northern Tutchone people, have always made our Northern Tutchone side more prevalent in our daily lives. I love that my family still goes out to fish camp every summer, a trip that is one of my earliest memories as a child, and continues to be one of my favourite activities in the summer. I am very grateful to my Grandmother and Aunties for teaching all of us to prepare and preserve salmon in the traditional ways that they learned from their Elders. This is a tradition that is now being passed down to the younger generation from my Father’s generation and mine. The collection and preservation of food is a tradition that spans all cultures; each part of my heritage has a unique way of doing it. The Norwegian salted fish, the Welsh smoked the fish and the Northern Tutchone smoked and dried the fish.
Each of the concepts I am describing are very different yet interlaced within each other. Many different cultures share similar traditions and celebrate similar aspects in their heritage; births, life, death and the changing of the seasons.