People across the Northwest Territories are mourning the passing of well-known Sahtu leader George Cleary, as first reported by CKLB.
According to Cleary’s family, the 65-year-old died peacefully in Yellowknife on Thursday. “George Cleary was a very good man,” Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya told Cabin Radio.
“He worked hard for his people, he put the tools on the table, and he always encouraged people to go to school, get an education, and learn about the land payment agreement.”
Yakeleya remembers Cleary as a “dedicated leader” who had a vision for the settlement of a Sahtu land claim. He was also an educator and an avid lover of hockey and sports, Yakeleya said.
“He was a very kind man, a very smart man, and a person that had worked hard to correct some of the past mistakes that the government had [made] dealing with the Aboriginal people, especially people in the Sahtu region.”
Cleary was formerly the chief of Délı̨nę and the president of the Sahtu Tribal Council. He was instrumental in negotiating the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement.
In 2014, he was also inducted into the NWT Department of Education, Culture, and Employment’s Education Hall of Fame, which recognizes NWT residents who “provided exemplary service, or made a lasting impression to the field of education.”
Yakeleya said he first met Cleary in the 1990s when he was the chief of Tulita and Cleary was the chief of Délı̨nę. He said Cleary brought together the Sahtu chiefs for the creation of the Sahtu Dene Council.
“He was talking about the unity of the Sahtu chiefs and creating an organization, creating a unit for all the Dene chiefs,” Yakeleya recalled, adding that Cleary was “very patient” in explaining why the organization was needed.
“This wasn’t done before, and so I was very impressed by his vision.”
Yakeleya said he later worked with Cleary on the Grollier Hall Residential School Healing Society. They became friends when Cleary was a director with the federal government’s Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
“I wanted to say thank-you to George and his family because in leadership, there is a lot of sacrifice that they make on behalf of family – and his family certainly supported him through his leadership areas. And now he’s resting with the angels up in heaven,” he said.
A funeral service was held for Cleary in Délı̨nę on Monday.