Land claim trailblazers honoured

Forty years after Elijah Smith handed a copy of Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, five of the chiefs who stood with him were honoured.

Forty years after Elijah Smith handed a copy of Together Today for our Children Tomorrow to Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, five of the chiefs who stood with him were honoured at the Council of Yukon First Nations Chiefs Summit in Whitehorse on Thursday.

Percy Henry, the former chief of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, spoke alongside Nacho Nyak Dun’s Robert Hager, Selkirk First Nation’s former chief Danny Joe, and Clyde and Roddy Blackjack, both brothers from Little Salmon/Carmacks.

The chiefs were introduced to a standing ovation by moderator Mary Jane Jim, who said she could just barely remember the heady days when Smith and the others were presenting their seminal document to Ottawa.

“I was a young woman when that happened. I did not even comprehend the words ‘land claims.’ I couldn’t even fathom it. But the foresight of our leaders and our elders and my mentors brought me to this point today where I’m able to stand before you as one of the ones that has the privilege and the honour of being in the presence of these wonderful gentlemen. The knowledge and wisdom that is in this room today humbles me,” she said.

The common thread as all five men spoke was the need to re-engage First Nations youth, to give them a voice and be willing to listen to their concerns.

“Today, I’m having trouble with the youth. They start questioning us, asking ‘Where’s our grassroots people?’ What do we tell our kids? That’s a tough question to answer,” said Henry.

“I’m so proud to be here, yet I’m so sad. All the great chiefs are gone,” he said.

Henry spoke about being at the meeting where Smith presented Trudeau with a copy of Together Today for our Children Tomorrow.

“Elijah was first to speak. He said ‘Mr. Prime Minister, we are not here for a hand out. We are here for our land. When Trudeau opened the book … he said that’s the greatest document he’d ever seen,” Henry said.

But not all of Canada’s prime ministers were so open to the idea of land claims and aboriginal rights.

Nacho Nyak Dun’s former chief Robert Hager said he and the other chiefs faced a lot of resistance from Ottawa as they worked their way through the settlement process.

Hager was 28 when he became chief and joined the ranks of those pushing hard for land claims settlements. In 1985 they started negotiations for the Umbrella Final Agreement, even when the government was still uneasy about the idea.

“Prime Minister John Turner walked up to me and said, ‘You’re going to be right down at the bottom for this.’ I said, ‘Thank you, John. Because you know what? I still have my aboriginal rights. That’s what I believe in. I’m not going to give them up, and that’s what I still have today.”

But along with battling Ottawa, Hager also battled his own demons.

“Drugs and alcohol are destroying our kids. I know what it’s like to be an alcoholic. I almost was one myself. When I was 16 I thought I owned the world. I destroyed 10 years of my life,” he said, urging today’s chiefs to help press for treatment and change.

Former Selkirk First Nation Chief Danny Joe had perhaps the most optimistic message, especially for the territory’s young indigenous people.

“Forty years ago, I didn’t feel like this. Today I have a feeling, a really strong feeling, a good feeling seeing all the young people,” he said.

“I have a strong feeling towards our young people. You see many young faces, young chiefs taking over, and saying they have a hard time with the government. They got too many lawyers. Today, you got education. Right on, man. Keep it up. Keep training your young people as much as you can. You’re going to need that in the future,” Joe said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon Employees’ Union says a lack of staff training and high turnover at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter is creating a dangerous situation for underpaid workers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Employees’ Union says lack of training at emergency shelter leading to unsafe situations

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said the staffing policy “is evolving”

Justice Karen Wenckebach will begin serving as resident judge on the Yukon Supreme Court early next year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
All-female justice roster ‘a good step’ for diversity in Yukon Supreme Court

Karen Wenckebach is the third woman appointed to the Yukon Supreme Court in history

The Liberal government blocked a motion by Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers that would have asked the federal government to provide the territories with more than a per capita amount of COVID-19 vaccine doses during initial distribution. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Party says a per capita distribution of vaccines would leave Yukon short

The opposition is also asking the government to release their plan for vaccine distribution


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 4, 2020

Dawson City’s BHB Storage facility experienced a break-and-enter last month, according to Yukon RCMP. (File photo)
Storage lockers damaged, items stolen in Dawson City

BHB Storage facility victim to second Dawson City break-and-enter last month

A sign outside the Yukon Inn Convention Centre indicates Yukoners can get a flu vaccine inside. As of Dec. 4, the vaccinations won’t be available at the convention centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse Convention Centre ends flu vaccination service early

Flu vaccinations won’t be available at the Whitehorse Convention Centre after Dec.… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White River First Nation to run for councillors in the 2021 election. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News File)
White River First Nation to elect new chief and council

Nominations continue to be open for Northern Tutchone members of the White… Continue reading

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new councillor in a byelection held Dec. 3. (Wikimedia Commons)
Watson Lake elects new councillor

The Town of Watson Lake has elected John Devries as a new… Continue reading

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Most Read