Robert Hager, longtime Na-Cho Nyäk Dun chief, dead at 75

Robert Hager is being remembered as a strong leader, a tough negotiator and a proud advocate for traditional rights and Aboriginal self-government.

Hager remembered as fierce advocate for Aboriginal self-government, and a 'very, very proud leader'

Robert Hager 'took every opportunity to remind everyone that Yukon First Nations were the first peoples of this territory,' said CYFN Grand Chief Ruth Massie. (Submitted by Hager family)

Robert Hager, the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun chief, who famously held out for a better deal in Yukon land claim negotiations, has died.

His family says he died Friday morning at his home in Mayo, after a battle with cancer. He was 75 years old.

Hager served as chief of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation for more than three decades, making him one of the longest-serving chiefs in Yukon history.

"Robert was a very strong believer in self government and traditional rights and harvesting rights," said his niece, Nancy Hager.

"He was always talking to lawyers, other people from other First Nations — they always got drawn to him, because they knew he was a real politician in that area."

'He stood his ground'

In 1973, Robert Hager was among a group of Yukon First Nations representatives who presented a document to then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow: A Statement of Grievances and an Approach to Settlement, by the Yukon Indian People.

That document lead to the formation of a central organization that evolved into the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) and land claim negotiations that culminated in the Umbrella Final Agreement, which provides a self-government framework for Yukon First Nations. 

Hager was there through it all and famously made waves during the land claim negotiations when he said "no" to an early agreement-in-principle, urging First Nations to hold out for a better deal.

Ruth Massie called Hager 'a very, very proud leader' of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation. (CBC)

"[The agreement-in-principle] wasn't strong enough for him, and he was absolutely insistent on very strong language. He stood his ground on that and he eventually got the language that we required in there," said CYFN Grand Chief Ruth Massie.

"He always expressed the importance of Aboriginal rights and titles. He took every opportunity to remind everyone that Yukon First Nations were the first peoples of this territory."

Massie offered condolences to Hager's family and the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation.

"I am sure they are going to miss him sorely. He was a very, very proud leader."

With files from Leonard Linklater and Philippe Morin