Former Champagne and Aishihik chief and land claims trailblazer dies

Ray Jackson, a former chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and one of the leaders who helped pioneer modern Yukon First Nations land claims has died.

One of the leaders who helped pioneer modern Yukon First Nations land claims has died.

Ray Jackson, a former chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, was one of 12 chiefs who travelled to Ottawa in 1973 with Elijah Smith to present then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau with Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.

Jackson helped pen parts of the document that was the first step towards the Yukon’s Umbrella Final Agreement and modern self-government agreements.

“A lot of the old leaders, and Ray was one of them, they led us off the precipice, so to speak,” said Steve Smith, current Champagne and Aishihik First Nations chief.

“It was an unknown in Canada and people like Ray were so committed, they understood it so well, that he was willing to lead us off the cliff because he knew it was actually going to be a better situation for us in the long run.”

Jackson died Monday after a lengthy battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 77.

Jackson was chief from 1972 to 1974 and again from 1979 to 1980. Thanks in part to his work, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations became one of the first four Yukon First Nations to sign self-governing agreements in 1993.

“Champagne/Aishihik looks upon Ray as one of those key individuals who really set in motion the struggle for land claims and he was the one who provided all of us with a vision of what we were wanting to do,” Smith said.

It wasn’t always an easy sell, Smith said. Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was presented in 1973, four years after the federal government’s controversial White Paper proposed abolishing the Indian Act and ending First Nations’ distinct legal status.

Some First Nations people didn’t want anything to do with negotiating with the federal government, Smith said.

“So seeing that idea, these leaders back in the late ’60s and early ’70s went through a lot of criticism. But they saw in it the positives definitely outweighed the negatives and made the decision to keep moving forward.”

During that era, being chief meant having to make a lot of personal sacrifices, Smith said.

“Back then, being the chief, you could barely pay the rent with the type of remuneration that you got,” Smith said.

“So a lot of them did it on the backs of their own families and (were) sacrificing not only time but also other resources of the family to carry on the fight for a just land claim.”

Negotiator Dave Joe believes Jackson wanted to create a structure that would benefit his people for generations.

“Ray was a great chief, a very compassionate and caring individual. He had vision, he had foresight,” he said.

Jackson was president of the Yukon Native Brotherhood in the mid 1970s and in the late 1980s became vice-chair of the Council of Yukon Indians.

Over his career he worked as band manager, the president of Champagne Aishihik Enterprises, the land claims coordinator for Kwanlin Dun and in land claims for Kluane Tribal Council.

As he got older his involvement with First Nations governments didn’t waver.

“He had his name stand for almost every board and committee both with Champagne/Aishihik and within CYFN,” Smith said.

That includes time on the lands and housing committees, the Haines Junction community justice committee and as a CAFN General Assembly delegate.

With decades of experience to draw from, Jackson was also always willing to offer advice along with his infectious smile.

“He would always try and tell me, you make the decisions for all of the people and sometimes the decisions are not going to be liked by a vocal minority,” Smith said.

“But if you know in your heart that it’s the right decision for everybody, then stand by your direction, and stay committed to the decision that you’ve made, and eventually people will see.”

Jackson was a member of the Agunda (Wolf) Clan and the eldest of seven children.

He is survived by his wife Jenny, daughters Sue-Anne and Crystal, and siblings Florence, Grady and Jackie. He is predeceased by his parents, Marge and Peter Jackson, and siblings Oliver, Margaret and Ronnie.

Funeral arrangements will be announced soon, Jackson’s family said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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