Eddie Erasmus, who served as Tłı̨chǫ grand chief from 2011 to 2017 and as a negotiator for the Tłı̨chǫ Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement before that, has passed away.
Family members said Eddie’s cancer had progressed rapidly since July’s Tłı̨chǫ Assembly. The McKenna Funeral Home said he had passed away on Friday last week.
Ediiwa, as he was known, had celebrated his 70th birthday on July 17.
Broadcaster and Tłı̨chǫ interpreter Marie Rose Blackduck said Eddie had dedicated his entire life to better the Tłı̨chǫ Nation.
“You spent thousand of hours away from home, you missed numerous birthdays and anniversaries, your children made sacrifices too but they stood with you,” Blackduck wrote in a tribute to Eddie on Facebook.
“Your wife, Goolie, worked endlessly as the First Lady of the Tłı̨chǫ Nation. Your whole family worked very hard for us … not to mention all the people both of you fed over the years.
“Sometimes the work was thankless and never acknowledged, but I know we lost a man who deeply loved the Tłı̨chǫ Nation. Ediiwa, fly high with the angels. You left a big void in our life. You will be deeply missed.”
Born in Behchokǫ̀ in 1952, Eddie served in the 1980s and early 1990s as the Dogrib Treaty 11 Council’s executive director, then its grand chief, before helping to negotiate the agreements that would establish the Tłıchǫ Government.
He became the Tłı̨chǫ grand chief in a by-election in 2011 and won a full four-year term in 2013. George Mackenzie succeeded Eddie in 2017, pushing him into second place in a four-way contest.
Writing online, both Mackenzie and present Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty said their thoughts and prayers were with the Erasmus family.
In 2021, as Eddie sought a return to the grand chief’s role in an election ultimately won by Lafferty, he issued a call for Tłı̨chǫ people to come together – a call that echoes a year later as Behchokǫ̀ tries to recover from a series of recent deaths that have touched all residents.
“We have to be unified. All of the chiefs have got to work together,” Erasmus said at the time, focusing on economic prosperity as a means of lifting communities out of poverty and improving mental health.
“We have to create jobs. We don’t have any development on Tłı̨chǫ lands right now. To create jobs, we need to build a mine on Tłı̨chǫ land where we can have jobs for our people. We can even own that mine,” he said.
“Our Elders have said that before. Right now, where our young people are working today, those mines are not going to last forever. They’ll be depleted, eventually shut down. Where are our people who are working there going to go?”
Taking part in an Aurora College circle of knowledge-holders several years ago, he had urged Indigenous peoples to assert themselves – as he had – in defining the terms on which they would interact with colonial governments.
“We think differently than in the English language. Even the people that are trying to deny or don’t want to accept your concept of thinking, you have to keep controlling the agenda and keep pushing,” he said, according to a document that recorded the proceedings.
“They are not Aboriginal people. It is hard for them to understand the Aboriginal way of life, the Aboriginal way of thinking – even the aboriginal government, for that matter.”
Beyond politics, Jenny Erasmus, one of his daughters, said: “My dad was one of the best. He will always be remembered by many. My dad was the smartest, funniest, wisest, hardest-working man I knew.”
Daughter Edie, sharing a video tribute, wrote: “You are still my favourite story, leader, teacher and hero, so it is with a heavy, heavy heart to depart from you today, setà.”
Eddie had been diagnosed with stage four cancer several months ago.
Visitation took place at the McKenna Funeral Home on Monday.
A service at Behchokǫ̀’s St Michael’s Catholic Church will be held on Tuesday, with a funeral mass followed by burial at Behchokǫ̀’s cemetery on Wednesday.