Jamena James Allen is Yukon University’s newest chancellor.
The school announced the appointment Oct. 6, noting Allen will formally take over the position as the ceremonial head of the university from Piers McDonald who has held it (under the school’s previous iteration as Yukon College) since 2016.
“James Allen brings a wealth of experience to this role from his time as Champagne and Aishihik First Nations chief, and as an advocate for education, language and healing. He has dedicated his life to improving the lives of others and Yukon University will benefit from his guidance,” David Morrison, chair of the YukonU Board of Governors, said in a statement.
Allen will be installed as chancellor at a ceremony anticipated for November with his first official duty to confer the first Yukon University honorary degrees on two distinguished Yukoners. No details have been provided on who the two Yukoners are who will receive the honorary degrees.
In an Oct. 8 interview, Allen said the university contacted him in July about taking on the role.
“It was a surprise for sure,” he said.
While it wasn’t something he had thought about previously, he said he felt he had something to offer given his background with CAFN.
Prior to entering First Nations politics and becoming a land claims negotiator for CAFN in the 1980s, Allen worked as a tradesperson.
He was elected Dän nätthe (chief), first in 2002 and again in 2010, serving four-year terms each time.
In his role as chief, Allen also partnered with Yukon College in the creation of what was then the executive development program, a program that has since transitioned into the current Indigenous Governance degree program.
As chief he also oversaw the final construction and opening of the Da Kų Culture Centre in Haines Junction.
The university also highlighted Allen’s contributions to language revival.
It was also noted that for many years, Allen has operated an annual healing camp for men dealing with addictions and since his retirement from politics, he and his wife Barbara operate Shaka Tun Adventures, a tourism and guiding business that shares stories and traditional activities with visitors, on the Allen family’s trap line at Kluane Lake.
As the ceremonial head of the university appointed by the board of governors, Allen will act as a bridge between the school, students, and the broader community.
Allen said he expects to spend a lot of time “listening and learning” the issues at the university in his new role, but also noted he has a few ideas he hopes to work on over his two-year term.
The Yukon is unique in that many First Nations have land claim and self-government agreements already in place, Allen said, adding that out of those agreements, he would like to see the university develop closer relationships with First Nations that will benefit all.
“I am humbled and honoured to take on the role of chancellor of Yukon University,” he said in a statement. “I have long been an advocate for building resources from within to realize the promise of self-government, and indeed Yukon itself. The establishment of Yukon University is a further step towards self-sufficiency for all Yukon.”
The university noted the chancellor is responsible for conferring credentials on each graduating student. The position is voluntary for a term of two years.
Under the Yukon University Act the chancellor is now a voting member of the board of governors and university senate.
Previous chancellors for Yukon College have included Pierre Berton, T’aaḵú Tláa Pearl Keenan, Ken MacKinnon, Anyalahash Sam Johnston, Rolf Hougen, Geraldine Van Bibber, and Piers McDonald, making Allen the eighth chancellor to serve in the voluntary position since 1989.
Jamena is Allen’s Dän k’e (Southern Tutchone) name. T’aaḵú Tláa, and Anyalahash are the Tlingit names of Pearl Keenan and Sam Johnston respectively.
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