First Nation pioneer dies

A pioneer of First Nation rights who helped pave the way for self-government agreements in the Yukon passed away this week.

A pioneer of First Nation rights who helped pave the way for self-government agreements in the Yukon passed away this week.

Ken Kane, 63, died Monday afternoon after a battle with cancer.

A member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Kane is being remembered as a role model for Yukon First Nations.

The word visionary popped up in several interviews about Kane’s life.

He recognized a need for a First Nations communications network to discuss community issues and set out to establish a broadcasting system, said long-time friend and coworker Bob Charlie.

“The existing media wasn’t doing much (aboriginal coverage) at the time, and he saw that,” said Charlie.

First Nations communications owes a lot of its history to Kane. He helped found the Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon and CHON FM.

The system he set up was a precursor to the now-national Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Kane was the sparkplug that brought everybody together for the project, said friend Doug Caldwell, who first met Kane while training on-air staff for the new radio channel.

“He was the visionary in terms of putting the network together,” said Caldwell.

“He wore a lot of hats and influenced different elements of the development. He was part of the team that made the whole thing move.”

Kane focused on content and programming, but also worked on the early technical aspects of the station. 

His media experience made for an easy transfer to a job where he spent his last decade — as a communications officer with Champagne and Aishihik.

He retired from the job earlier this year.

Kane was born December 9, 1944. He attended the Whitehorse Baptist Mission school, where he first met Charlie.

Kane attended university, one of the first Yukon First Nation students to do so, at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

There he played hockey while finishing his studies in the early ‘60s.

He continued playing hockey for years, including a stint as the only aboriginal player on the Yukon team that attended the 1967 Canada Winter Games in Quebec City.

After university, he travelled around Canada and United States and often stopped at First Nations communities along the way.

He made a stop in San Francisco in the late ‘60s when the American Indian Movement occupied Alcatraz Island to protest for aboriginal rights.

Arriving back in the Yukon in the ‘70s, Kane started doing communications work for the Council for Yukon Indians.

Kane travelled the Yukon with a group of people spreading information about land claim agreements and self-government issues in First Nation communities.

His worked paved the way for serious negotiations over land claim settlements with Ottawa, an issue he followed until his death.

“He was always concerned with how things will turn out with self-government,” said Charlie.

“He’ll be missed by a lot of people. When there was something happening with First Nations in the Yukon, he always somewhere in the background.”

Kane travelled to Ottawa with Elijah Smith’s team to make the case on Parliament Hill for aboriginal rights. Again, he focused on communications strategies for the many meetings the group would attend.

Their work led to land claims agreement for the Yukon.

“Ken’s real influence was behind the scenes, bringing people together and making things happen,” said Caldwell.

“He didn’t necessarily do the work, but he brought people together who did. He found a need for something and made it happen.”

The territory recognized Kane with a Commissioner’s Public Service Award in August.

The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation also honoured Kane during a July general assembly. Members surprised him with a birthday party and dance during the meeting.

Kane always took pride in his ability to speak his native language, Tutchone. Speaking it with elders was always a pleasure, said Charlie.

A mentor and visionary is how Kane will be remembered by friends and family.

“The cultural changes in the territory in the last 30 years has been phenomenal,” said Caldwell.

“Ken was a guy who helped write that chapter.”