(too-loo-gak): Inuktitut (the language of Inuit) word meaning raven

PJ Johnson

Whitehorse, YT

I am known as the Raven Lady. In 1985, I caught word that the Yukon government was planning to name the Whisky Jack as the territorial bird. That hit me the wrong way totally. I made some inquiries and I ended up running a nine-month campaign in the media, complete with campaign buttons that said I’m A Raven Maniac. I also had petitions. I proceeded to try and educate a lot of people about the raven. Nine months later, it ended in Bill 12, the Raven Act, and the raven was proclaimed the official territorial bird. I had to buck the government all the way. It was quite fun. It was in the newspapers in Yellowknife as well. They jumped into the fray and accused us of raven-napping. At one point, the government said we could have any bird, but the raven. Anybody who’s been in Whitehorse any length of time knows if any bird is suitable for our symbol, it’s the raven. That’s it in a nutshell. I did an interview with someone from Yellowknife and they wanted to have a debate on CBC. It was quite fun. I asked, “Don’t you guys already have an official symbol with that three-legged polar bear?” Whoever it was started sputtering, but it was sort of in jest. The raven is my spirit guide. It’s also the bird that is the most impressive. It’s the bird that is a year round resident, it recycles, and is the most intelligent bird on the face of the earth. What do you see when you look out your window at 60 below? You see the raven dive-bombing the neighbour’s husky dog and the raven is walking around in bare feet. They’re so resourceful and they have a sense of humour in the face of adversity. There is so much I admire about ravens that I aspire to myself. They’re monogamous as well. They live upwards of 79 or 80 years. A lot of these Yukon turkeys walking around have been here longer than the people. They use tools, too. In mythology, they are equated with life and creation, the Creator. There are many stories of raven throughout the culture. What bothered me the most at the time was some of the ignorance. Ask the Elders who they identify with and who they would want as their symbol here in the North. The people making this decision had been here all of five minutes. I tried to do some research on the corvids and found just about nothing to go on. One of the first viable studies done was by Bernd Heinrich, Ravens in Winter. We were in touch because he heard about this and got in touch with me. He actually dedicated his book to all the raven maniacs who heard the call. We traded information and we wondered if ravens from Maine and the Yukon would speak the same language when they talk. I am the official poet laureate, the first one in Canada. The raven thing was 1985 and for a while, my life was nothing but ravens. I was getting calls from across Canada and the United States. People sent me stories about everything from the Queen’s ravens in the Tower of London to Edgar Allen Poe. This is the Pacific Northwest. This is not Europe. The raven does not symbolize to me death, but life and creation all the way. I have lots of things raven including a Yukon license plate. The Yukon government considered making that the license plate.