Meet The Grand Chief

by Jennifer Liu

As the face of the Council of Yukon First Nations, Peter Johnston strives to balance the serious side of his work with lighter moments.

“We have to take the time to celebrate not only our achievements but also celebrate our time together as First Nation people,” says CYFN’s Grand Chief.

Johnston turns his eye to the next generation. In a world with more open lines of communication, First Nation youth must rise up and take a leadership role in Canada’s future, he says.

And for any youth who want to chat with him, Johnston is available to provide mentorship.

Johnston turns his eye to the next generation. In a world with more open lines of communication, First Nation youth must rise up and take a leadership role in Canada’s future, he says.

And for any youth who want to chat with him, Johnston is available to provide mentorship.

“I want to help empower him-or-her to have every opportunity to succeed,” says the Grand Chief. “Because, at the end of the day, the more boats that are floating in the harbour, the more success we’ll have. And that’s about lifting people up – everybody – in society.”

The media plays a crucial role in helping First Nations build relationships with the public. “To ensure that the story that’s being told is correct – not being skewed or marginalized; because there are so many negative, racial comments that we are just ‘living high-on-the-hog.’”

“Our nations are going to rule this territory,” he adds, taking care to emphasize this is a positive statement, not a challenge to anyone. “We are taking our rightful place back in society.”

Johnston looks forward to tackling more challenges head-on, supported by strong community and family ties.

“The biggest part for me is to carry on and just to be successful, and I think I am. I could be better—and that’s what I think I strive for every day is to be better; a better father, a better partner, a better Grand Chief.”

A lot of what I try to bring to the table is our history and talk about where we’ve come from.

At 45, Johnston already has a 50-year vision for First Nation people in Yukon, one that’s built on positive change.

“It’s about being better than you are today. There’s so many opportunities for us today to evolve and to bring things such as our culture and language to the forefront. We, as nations, have always been progressive. Even though we’ve gone through so much stuff in our histories, we’ve always moved ahead and evolved to the next level.

“A lot of what I try to bring to the table is our history and where we’ve come from,” Johnston continues. “The realities that we face every day are not just monotonous . . . there’s peaks and valleys.”

His Tlingit heritage grounds him and gives him pride. His Tlingit name, Łdàdutîn, means ‘you can’t see the bottom of the water.’

“When you’re given that Tlingit name, it comes with a lot of weight-bearing responsibilities – you have to work to reach the sacred teachings: dignity, integrity, respect, compassion, love, kindness.”

These qualities are a compass in Johnston’s life and work. He enjoys being around people; whether students in local schools, community members at festivals around the territory, or politicians in Ottawa.

Every two months, the Grand Chief meets with Yukon chiefs at CYFN Leadership meetings to discuss ways to support their people and community activities. Decisions are often made based on these joint discussions.

But as important as his role may be among the Yukon’s 14 First Nations, their collective needs aren’t always easy to convey.

“There’s always going to be tough days, there’s always going to be governments that don’t want to open the doors for us to have that conversation,” Johnston admits. “We’ve always just been on the receiving end, rather than being in the same room and having that discussion with government, whether it be federal or territorial.”

But the tide is slowly changing, he says.

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