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AFN awards presented for climate, language and culture leadership

Thirteen Yukoners received awards on March 22
Ron Chambers accepts his lifetime achievement award in regalia at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on March 22. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Thirteen Yukoners were honoured on March 22 at the annual Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon Leadership Awards.

“This is a special moment today, for all of you, to be celebrated and acknowledged for all of the work that you’ve done and continue to do in the spirit of a Yukon that leads,” said Regional Chief Kluane Adamek in her opening statement.

“Leadership isn’t about a title or a role, it’s about who you are, and how you show up.”

The award ceremony took place at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, with limited attendance. Each recipient received a “celebration-in-a-box” for the winners to take home and share with friends and family who weren’t able to attend in person. The ceremony was emceed by Sharon Shorty.

The Rising Youth award was presented to Trina Adanchilla Pauls. The 16-year-old Champagne and Aishihik citizen is a member of the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, and also has a beading business, called Adanchilla Designs.

The WomXn in Leadership award was presented to Dorothy Smith, who has served on housing committees, the children’s act review, and for the Yukon Women’s Association. Smith currently serves as a Ross River Dene councillor, and has served previously as chief.

Emily McDougall was presented with the Climate Leader award. She was the AFN’s regional climate change coordinator in the last two years and the technical representative for the AFN’s climate change advisory committee.

The Language Warrior award went to Grady Sterriah, a Kaska woman described as a “champion for the invigoration and celebration of language.” Sterriah has been a long-time teacher at the Ross River school.

Michelle Friesen won the Female Emerging Leader award. Friesen founded Shredders, which “aims to empower and connect women through mountain biking, while preventing mental health and wellness resources.”

She also founded Elect Her, which empowers women in leadership and politics.

The Male Emerging Leader was Colesen Ford, who is a Kluane First Nation youth counsellor pursuing Indigenous Governance at Yukon University.

Two Wellness Awards were presented to Bengie Clethero and Rennes Lindsay for promoting the well-being of First Nation citizens. Clethero is the Deputy Child and Youth Advocate, and Lindsay is a member of the Kwanlin Dün Youth Advisory Committee and a swimming mentor.

Bill Webber, Frances Woolsey, Ron Chambers and Lena Johnson were presented with Lifetime Achievement awards.

Webber founded the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians and served on Kwanlin Dün council during land claims negotiations. He was also an elder counsellor, tribunal member of the nation’s justice council and a special assistant to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Woolsey was awarded for her lifetime of work-sharing cultural knowledge, advocating for Indigenous voices and sharing traditional stories. She researched and documented early mapping of the North.

Chambers, who drummed throughout the awards ceremony, was awarded for his active culture-sharing. He has performed nationally and internationally, and is also an established carver.

Johnson was recognized for a lifetime supporting her community and upholding the languages and stories of her ancestors, including at the Kluane Research Summit in 2018.

The Cultural Leader prize was awarded posthumously to K’aank’i, Aggie Johnston, from Teslin. Johnston was a “cherished” birth speaker who spoke Tlingit as her first language. Her two sons received the award in her honour.

“She was a woman of great knowledge, love, respect and dignity,” said her son, Anthony. “She was highly respected by the Tlingit nation and one of the last fluent speakers … She devoted her life to strive, prosper, persevere.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at