Mike Smith, early champion of Yukon land claims, has died

As a young lawyer, Smith pushed for land claim agreements for Yukon First Nations, and continued to fight for their implementation through his life. 'A great leader,' his family says.

Smith was a leader and mentor to many who fought for Indigenous rights, his family says

Mike Smith at a 2015 gathering in Whitehorse to mark 20 years of self government for several Yukon First Nations. Smith's family confirmed in a statement Thursday that he had died. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Former Kwanlin Dün First Nation chief Mike Smith, who was part of the early push for land claim agreements for Yukon First Nations and later fought for their implementation, has died.

A statement from his family on Thursday morning confirmed his death but did not disclose the cause, referring only to a "medical condition" that Smith wanted kept confidential.

The statement says Smith was a "deeply private person" who spent his last days with his family.

"Mike was a great leader who shared the vision of the many leaders he worked with in trying to build a better future for his people," the family's statement reads.

Smith was a residential school survivor who earned his law degree in 1984. He promptly put his legal knowledge to work in pushing for land claim agreements for Yukon First Nations. 

He served three terms as chief of Kwanlin Dün, and was a signatory of the First Nation's land claim and self-government agreement, in 2005.

"Kwanlin Dün First Nation people have made the choice to take responsibility for our future. We look forward at this time to pass on our legacy to future generations," he said at the signing ceremony. 

Smith was also past chair of the Council For Yukon Indians (later to become the Council of Yukon First Nations), and more recently, the Assembly of First Nations' regional chief for Yukon.

His family describes him as a mentor to many in Aboriginal rights, and the "traditional leader of our family."

The city of Whitehorse lowered flags to half-mast on Thursday, in honour of Smith.