Storyteller, role model, and 'fearless bear': Remembering Yukon elder Doris McLean

Doris McLean, well-known and respected Carcross/Tagish First Nation elder died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer.

Doris McLean of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation died Tuesday at 77

Doris McLean, a well known and respected Carcross/Tagish First Nation elder, and former chief, died Tuesday. She was 77. (Marilyn Yadułtin Jensen/Facebook)

Doris McLean, a respected elder and former chief of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, is being remembered as an inspiring leader and "great storyteller."

She died Tuesday at age 77, after a long battle with cancer.

"She was a fearless bear," said her daughter, Marilyn Jensen. "One of the biggest things she taught me in my life — right from the time I was a baby, 'til now, like 'til two days ago — is be proud of who you are, be strong with who you are."

McLean served as Carcross/Tagish chief from 1988 to 1992, and worked to develop the Umbrella Final Agreement, finalized in 1990, that set the stage for self-government and land claim agreements in Yukon.

'I come from a long line of good storytellers,' McLean told CBC in a 2010 interview. (Marilyn Yadułtin Jensen/Facebook)

She also worked tirelessly to preserve the Tagish language, was the Yukon Legislative Assembly's first Canadian Aboriginal woman Sergeant-at-Arms, was well known in the community for her many volunteer activities and was a recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.

"I'm very saddened," said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, who knew McLean. "A great loss to her people, but as a great storyteller, she's left it with her generations, and I'm sure they will pass it on."

In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, McLean's family called her their "regal Matriarch."

"Caroline Doris Angela Johns McLean has begun her sacred journey, she has left this earthly realm and is now winging her flight into the radiant love of our Creator and Ancestors ... please pray for her that she may walk softly and peacefully into the Forest," the post reads.

Importance of storytelling

"I'm from the clan of the killer whale, which is Dakl'aweidi. We originated from the Stikine River, down the Stikine River into Alaska and back," McLean told CBC in a 2010 interview.

For McLean, storytelling was an important way to connect people today — especially First Nations youth — with their history.

"Our history goes back 10,000 years for settling in the Yukon," McLean said.

"I come from a long line of good storytellers … a lot of the books that were written, and recorded [Carcross/Tagish First Nation] history, come from my family."

McLean loved telling the tales of her youth in Carcross, and her daughter says those were some of her best stories.

"They were always up to really good mischief — out on the lake when they shouldn't have been, driving cars when they shouldn't have been," Jensen recalls.

'I think that's part of her biggest legacy — is that we're still dancing,' said McLean's daughter Marilyn Jensen, who leads the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers. (Angela Klondike)

Jensen says her mother will also be remembered for her kindness. She says it was the main thing she taught others.

"A big part of her legacy, and what everyone tells me is, 'your mother was so kind. Your mother was so loving to us,'" she said.

Jensen, who leads the renowned Dakhká Khwáan Dancers, said her mother always encouraged her to embrace her heritage and "to be there, to go to things."

"She used to say, 'you have to go to the potlatches, you have to go to the events, you have to be there for your people,'" Jensen recalled.

"She started us dancing when we were two, you know, and in those days not many people were dancing ... I think that's part of her biggest legacy — is that we're still dancing."

A funeral for Doris McLean is scheduled for Saturday at the Carcross longhouse.

with files from James Miller and Meagan Deuling


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