Dakhká Khwáan Dancers sing on the floor of the Legislative Assembly in honour of Doris McLean in Whitehorse on Nov. 13. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

First Indigenous ceremony held in legislative assembly in honour of Doris McLean

‘It just feels really appropriate’

The first Indigenous ceremony was hosted inside the Yukon legislative assembly this week and it was all for one person: Doris McLean, the beloved former chief of Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

“That’s so my mom,” said Marilyn Jensen, referring to how the occasion aligned with her mother’s passion for her culture, its revitalization and reclamation.

“It just feels really appropriate that her tribute will be the first time Indigenous people are in the legislative assembly singing our traditional clan songs,” she said ahead of the ceremony on Nov. 13.

“We’re singing what are known as the cry songs, which are songs we sing for deceased people up until we have their potlatch. This is why we aren’t doing a happy, celebratory song,” Jensen said.

McLean died at age 77 of cancer on Jan. 22.

She had walked the floor of the legislative assembly many times before acting as its Sergeant-at-Arms, the first Indigenous woman to do so in the territory – in Canada, according to Minister Jeanie Dendys, who paid a heartfelt tribute to McLean in the House.

“She was really loved by everyone sitting in political positions or working in the legislative assembly,” Jensen said. “They all really loved her presence. We miss her, we miss her so, so much.”

During her tribute, Dendys delved into great detail about McLean’s life, one that was full of adventure, intrigue and, at times, adversity, which she always plowed through.

“Through challenging times at residential schools, societal discrimination and government mandates to assimilate, she fought through all of it with a strong and clear vision to create a better future for her community and for her people,” Dendys said.

“Doris McLean’s dedication to community, culture and history has left a profound impact on all who came into contact with her. Her absence is profoundly felt, and her legacy and influence in Yukon will continue for generations to come.”

McLean volunteered extensively, including with the RCMP Citizens on Patrol and the 2000 Arctic Winter Games.

She was chief of CTFN, from 1988 to 1992, a timeframe in which she had a hand in developing the 1993 Umbrella Final Agreement.

Members from McLean’s clan, Dakl’aweidi (killer whale), were present at the ceremony, including her sister, children, grandchildren and members of the Dakhká Khwaán Dancers, which Jensen now leads. This group was the offshoot of The Skookum Jim/Keish Tlingit Dancers, which McLean established in the 1970s.

One of the members of the Dakhká Khwaán Dancers held McLean’s drum during the day of the ceremony.

Jensen called her late mother a “fierce, warrior leader of a woman.”

“I feel like she was almost like Jedi. She just did things that were so ahead of her time,” she said, adding that she wanted to hold this legacy up.

“She wasn’t afraid. She said things that needed to be said. Often times, she wasn’t popular for that, but she just went ahead. Such vision and such hope for her children and the generations to come.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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