New Yukon U chancellor prioritizes 'great inclusion' of Indigenous culture

Yukon University's new chancellor says there has been great progress in including Indigenous culture into the university's campus, and says his priority will be connecting Indigenous communities to higher education.

Jamena James Allen says higher education key to self-government for Yukon First Nations

Amid COVID-19 protocols, new chancellor of Yukon University Jamena James Allen (right) presented an honorary degree to Audrey McLaughlin on Nov. 16. Allen will serve in a ceremonial role but also advise the university. He has said a priority is to see Yukon First Nations build capacity and leadership through higher education. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The new chancellor of Yukon University says he wants to promote more Indigenous culture and content at the university, with an eye to fostering the next generation of leaders of Yukon self-government. 

Jamena James Allen, the first chancellor appointed after Yukon College's transformation to Yukon University, was inducted into the voluntary role this week for a two-year term. The chancellor is the ceremonial head of the university and acts as a bridge between the institution, the students, and the broader community.

He began his address in Southern Tutchone, introducing himself as a member of the Wolf Clan and member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.  

"It was an honour for me to accept the role of chancellor, because I think it allowed me to become involved in the education of all Yukoners, along with the inclusion of Yukon First Nations," he then said in English. 

Higher education key to self-government

Allen is a former Dän nätthe (chief) of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. He has long been an advocate for language, culture and trades education and has helped create and maintain an on-the-land camp in Haines Junction for men with addictions.

He says higher education is a key to self-government for Yukon First Nations.

"A lot of the First Nations are implementing their land claims agreements now and in order to do that, they require educated people. I have always advocated that we need to build our resources from within our First Nations to run our governments," he said. 

Allen said he has been encouraged by developments in recent years that see "a great inclusion" of Yukon First Nations' culture and languages onto campus. One example is on-the-land instruction offered near communities.

"I do know that the college started to develop a great inclusion of First Nations content in their programs, and included some of our traditional practices on campus grounds, and I would like to support continuing that as we move along," Allen said.

Two former residential school students meet on stage

On Nov. 16, Allen conferred two honorary degrees. 

Lawyer and land claims negotiator Dave Joe was one recipient. He is a citizen of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and an experienced lawyer who has worked with several First Nations on land claim negotiations. When he was called to the bar in 1977, he became the first person of Yukon Indigenous ancestry to ever obtain this certification and practice law.

Dave Joe (centre) was joined by daughters Jesse Hudson (left) and Jamie Joe-Hudson (right) to receive an honorary degree. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Upon receiving his honorary degree from the new chancellor, Joe shared that the two men have known each other a long time.

"It's fortunate and coincidental, perhaps, that I am receiving this honorary degree from Yukon University from my fellow res school student at the Whitehorse Indian Mission School," Joe said with a laugh, noting the two men were at the school in the mid-1950s.

Joe thanked his family who were in attendance and noted that having post-secondary education in the North has long been a dream of chiefs and other northern leaders. 

Former national NDP leader, social worker and longtime activist Audrey McLaughlin also received an honorary degree.

"I am really thrilled about the establishment to this university. This is a fruition of something very important, a great milestone," she said.

The event was also a farewell for outgoing chancellor Piers McDonald who has served in the role since being appointed by Yukon College in 2016.