Alice McGuire pictured in 1978. (Courtesy/Yukon Archives)

Alice McGuire pictured in 1978. (Courtesy/Yukon Archives)

Remembering Alice McGuire, the first Yukon First Nations woman elected to Yukon Legislative Assembly

Loved ones look back on her knowledge, kindness and cooking

During her life, Alice McGuire blazed her own trail to become the first Yukon First Nations female member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

“When she believed in something, she gave it 100 per cent to fulfill,” said Frances McGuire, Alice’s niece. Alice was her mother’s sister.

“Alice has a lot of stories that she wrote down.”

Frances told the News in a March 1 phone interview that she misses listening to her aunt’s storytelling in the evenings while watching television together. When Frances and her aunt went out berry picking, Alice would tell her stories about camping and growing up around Livingstone Creek before moving to Whitehorse when Alice was a child.

Alice was a Ta’an Kwäch’än citizen who was born on April 1, 1935, and died on Dec. 9, 2021. Her loved ones are remembering Alice for her knowledge, kindness and cooking.

“Alice touched many lives with her generosity, wisdom and quick wit,” reads her obituary in the News.

“We will all remember her many stories, her hospitality, great cooking and sense of humor. Alice will be deeply missed by family and many friends.”

In her writing about her teen years, which Frances shared with the News, Alice described her mother as a Tagish Kwan status woman, and her father as an English man.

Alice McGuire is being remembered by family and friends for her quick wit, kindness and cooking. (Courtesy/Ta’an Kwäch’än Council website)

Alice McGuire is being remembered by family and friends for her quick wit, kindness and cooking. (Courtesy/Ta’an Kwäch’än Council website)

It wasn’t until Aug. 1, 1960, when a new Canada Elections Act was given Royal Assent, that persons with the legal status of an “Indian” had the right to vote and run as a candidate in Canadian elections.

On Nov. 20, 1978, Alice made history when she became one of the two first Yukon First Nations elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly, alongside Grafton Njootli. Alice, a Liberal, and Njootli, a Progressive Conservative/Independent, made up 11.1 per cent of the 18-member assembly at the time, according to a Yukon Legislative Assembly fact sheet about First Nations in the legislature.

Alice was preceded by Hilda Watson. At the time, Alice’s defeat of Watson prevented her opponent, who was the Yukon Progressive Conservative leader, from becoming the first female head of government in a Canadian province or territory.

In the fact sheet, it’s noted Alice spent 1,295 days in office representing the Kluane district until June 6, 1982.

“Alice’s legacy of leadership is forever etched into the history of the territory and will continue inspiring future generations of leaders who follow in her footsteps,” Premier Sandy Silver said in a Dec. 15, 2021 statement following her death.

For years Alice was involved with Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, formerly known as the Yukon Indian Women’s Association, which sprang up in 1974 in response to injustices that Indigenous women in the territory were experiencing.

Jeanie McLean, the minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate and a member of Tahltan Nation, said her late mother was friends with Alice, as they grew up in the same era. McLean reflected on the political scene around the time when Alice was elected to the 24th Legislature.

“It was about five years before that, when the official start of the land claims and self government process launched with the delivery of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow to Ottawa, which happened in 1973 by a group of chiefs,” McLean said.

“During that time, there were still residential schools that were operating in the Yukon, and there had to have been a lot of barriers for not only women but especially Indigenous women walking into being part of an institution like the Legislative Assembly, and I think about the courage that she had.”

Alice McGuire and Grafton Njootli, the first members of the Legislative Assembly of Indigenous ancestry, were part of the 24th Legislature (1978-1982). Left to right, front row: Clerk of the assembly Patrick Michael, Dan Lang, Geoffrey Lattin, Al Falle, Tony Penikett, Meg McCall, Alice McGuire, Doug Graham. Left to right, back row: Howard Tracey, Grafton Njootli, Don Taylor, Chris Pearson, Maurice Byblow, Peter Hanson, Jack Hibberd, Robert Fleming, Iain MacKay. Seated: Interim commissioner Frank Fingland. (Courtesy/Yukon Archives)

Alice McGuire and Grafton Njootli, the first members of the Legislative Assembly of Indigenous ancestry, were part of the 24th Legislature (1978-1982). Left to right, front row: Clerk of the assembly Patrick Michael, Dan Lang, Geoffrey Lattin, Al Falle, Tony Penikett, Meg McCall, Alice McGuire, Doug Graham. Left to right, back row: Howard Tracey, Grafton Njootli, Don Taylor, Chris Pearson, Maurice Byblow, Peter Hanson, Jack Hibberd, Robert Fleming, Iain MacKay. Seated: Interim commissioner Frank Fingland. (Courtesy/Yukon Archives)

Both Alice and McLean ran under the Liberal party banner.

“What I think about when I reflect back on her life, and her legacy, is that she really broke through that glass ceiling for all of us,” McLean said.

“My run for office came in 2016, 38 years later, after Alice broke through on all of our behalf.”

In a March 1 Facebook message to the News, Alice’s friend Bonnie Harpe said when her daughter was young the two would visit Alice at a restaurant that she ran at the Casa Loma Motel in Whitehorse. Harpe said Alice was a “great cook” who would tell them stories of long ago and “made each meal with love.”

“Alice McGuire was a very intelligent and kind woman,” Harpe said.

“I will feel the impact of Alice’s loss when our First Nation meets for their general assembly in April and Alice’s chair will be vacant.”

In an undated statement made online following Alice’s death, Chief Amanda Leas described Alice as an “integral member” of Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Ta’an Kwäch’än Elder’s Council.

“Her dedication and passion for preserving our government’s history will be appreciated for years to come. Her kindness, passion, and strength for building community unity will be forever missed,” reads Lea’s statement.

This year Ta’an Kwäch’än will be celebrating its 20th anniversary after signing its final and self-government agreements on Jan. 13, 2002, and becoming a self-governing First Nation on April 1, 2002.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com

Yukon legislative assembly