Flags are flying at half mast in Whitehorse and on Yukon government buildings in honour of Mike Smith, a First Nations leader who passed away Thursday.
Smith, also known by his Dakl’aweide clan name Shakuni, made a powerful and lasting impression in the Yukon by dedicating his life to helping Indigenous people have a political voice and gain back their rights.
In the 1970’s Smith was involved in a group that spearheaded negotiations for Yukon’s land claim with Canada.
“They needed a certain type of group of people to lead the process,” said his brother Steve Smith. “But to also to be the legal analytical people researching and put forward the argument that we as Yukon first nations people have the right to govern ourselves and to live really in our country the way that we’ve always lived.”
Steve Smith told APTN News that their late father, Elijah Smith, encouraged his brother to become a lawyer, and with other leaders, help in the negotiations.
In a previous interview with APTN, Mike Smith said the most important aspect to self-government was holding onto Indigenous sovereignty.
“We need to pass the laws that protect our land,” he said in a 2012 interview. “We need laws that protect the water the air and to make sure that anybody coming onto our land like such as mining that they abide by the rules that we set up and not government because government really doesn’t care about our land.”
Smith was a lawyer, three-term chief of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, chair of the Council of Yukon Indians, Yukon’s regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
According to a statement from his family, Smith passed away peacefully at his home in Whitehorse from an undisclosed medical condition.
He was 71.
Friends say he’ll be remembered for his wealth of knowledge, his devotion to his family, his people and ancestral ways to make a better future.
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