Jocelyn Joe-Strack was just 10 years old when her dad handed her a weighty historical document.

"I'll never forget my dad coming in and handing me his wrinkled piece of paper that was the [Umbrella Final] Agreement, and he was like, 'This is for you,'" said Joe-Strack, a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in the Yukon.

Her father, Willie Joe, was a member of the Yukon Native Brotherhood's executive council — one of the bodies that eventually became the Council of Yukon First Nations. The council negotiated the Umbrella Final Agreement (UFA), a political framework that several First Nations were able to use to negotiate settlements in the Yukon.

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Joe-Strack and her father Willie Joe collecting wood when she was a toddler. Joe was a member of the Yukon Native Brotherhood's executive council and was a part of negotiating the Umbrella Final Agreement. (Submitted by Jocelyn Joe-Strack)

Since then, Joe-Strack has held onto that piece of paper.

"That was quite profound for me," said Joe-Strack.

Today, she's one of three Indigenous students from the University of Saskatchewan to be awarded the prestigious Vanier Scholarship. With it, she wants to build upon her father's work.

"It's a very, very big deal. These only go to the best of the best and they are ferociously competitive," explained Douglas Clark, Joe-Strack's PhD advisor and associate professor at University of Saskatchewan's School of Environment and Sustainability.

"She's a top-notch student and she's clearly an emerging leader in her own Nation." - Douglas Clark

The Vanier Scholarship offers $50,000 for three years for students to pursue their PhD. Winners of the scholarship were up against a competitive roster of doctoral students across Canada in all disciplines.

"I'm immensely proud of her," said Clark, who has worked with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations for 17 years.

"She's a top-notch student and she's clearly an emerging leader in her own Nation."

Research on 'our way'

Joe-Strack's research will center around her First Nation.

"It's about our journey. It's about our Nation's leadership and how far we've come," said Joe-Strack. "I just want to tell that positive story and talk about where we're going."

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Joe-Strack hopes to produce a land use plan that's rooted in 'Dän k'e' — or 'our way' in the Southern Tutchone language. (Submitted by Jocelyn Joe-Strack)

She hopes to analyze and help produce a land use plan that's rooted in "Dän k'e" — or "our way" in the Southern Tutchone language — which heavily incorporates values such as healing, culture and language.

Joe-Strack says she hopes her work will one day help facilitate reconciliation in Canada, and to influence how land planning is done across the globe.  

"I want somebody from the Yukon government or the Government of Canada to pick up this plan and have a better understanding of who we are as a people, and why we make the decisions the way that we do."

'For my baby girl'

Joe-Strack's father passed away in 1997, shortly after the UFA was ratified. Her mother passed 13 years later, when Joe-Strack was 26 years old. 

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'[It's] for my baby girl, and the people to come from her,' says Joe-Strack. (Submitted by Jocelyn Joe-Strack)

"While they were not here for long, I know they loved me, believed in me. I hope today they are proud of me."

This doctoral research is important on a more personal level.

"[It's] for my baby girl, and the people to come from her," she said.

"She needs to be able to walk in the forest and feel all the spirits, to be whole. And she will be better able to do that if she knows our language, if she knows how to treat a fish right, if she knows how to say thank you to the trees."

Joe-Strack says she hopes to pass along her father's copy of the UFA as well as her Nation's land use plan to her daughter in the future.

With files from Leonard Linklater