Longtime Yukon lawyer and former federal NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson died Feb. 14. She was 45. (Courtesy of the Atkinson family)

Longtime Yukon lawyer, former federal NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson dead at 45

Atkinson, who served as the territory’s first Indigenous Crown attorney, died the morning of Feb. 14.

Longtime Yukon lawyer and former federal NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson has died.

Atkinson, a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen with Han, Kaska and Tlingit roots, died the morning of Feb. 14.

She was 45.

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (TH), Yukon NDP and Yukon Party expressed their condolences in separate press releases Feb. 15.

Atkinson graduated with a bachelor of laws from the University of Victoria in 1999, according to the TH press release, and, in 2002, became the Yukon’s first First Nations Crown prosecutor.

She later left that role to become a senior lawyer with the Yukon Legal Services Society — also known as Legal Aid — and also served as the chair of the Yukon Human Rights Commission from 2004 to 2010 as well as president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Yukon branch.

Atkinson ran as the NDP’s candidate in the 2015 federal election, a race she would ultimately lose to the Liberals’ Larry Bagnell.

Besides her professional accomplishments, Atkinson was also a “humble, hardworking, compassionate person with a strong desire to better society an help all people,” the TH press release said.

“Melissa was a special, selfless individual and a role model for youth,” TH Chief Roberta Joseph said in the press release.

“It’s always sad when we lose a citizen; it’s even sadder to lose a young person like Melissa, but we are thankful for all she’s done for our people and all Yukoners. On behalf of the TH Council and citizens, I’d like to express our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

The Yukon NDP said it was “deeply saddened” by Atkinson’s “sudden passing,” describing her in its press release as a “proud Indigenous woman” who was “many things to any people: a daughter, a lawyer, an advocate and a friend.”

Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard also said his party was “sad” to learn about Atkinson’s death.

“Her contributions and service to Yukoners will be remembered and her passing is a loss for our territory,” Hassard said in a press release.

“Our sincere condolences to her family and friends at this time of loss.”

Atkinson is survived by her mother, Jessie Sidney.

More to come.

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