Northerners mourn former NWT commissioner Dan Marion
The Northwest Territories and its Tłı̨chǫ region remember Dan Marion as an avid gardener and family man with “a big heart” who dedicated his life to others.
Dan, a former NWT commissioner, passed away at his home in Frank Channel on May 12 at the age of 76. Family members said he leaves the legacy of a man committed to bettering his community.
“He really loved connecting with people, not just in the Tłı̨chǫ region, but all over the Northwest Territories,” Giselle Marion said of her father.
“What we remember about my dad is that it’s important to give back to your community and to care, to love and to work hard for your family and for your community.”
Born in Dufrost, Manitoba, Dan had a long and illustrious career in the North, where he spent many years in public service.
After working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in northern Ontario and the NWT for 24 years, he joined the Rae-Edzo Development Company, served as chief executive and president of the Dogrib Power Corporation, and was a member of the Fort Norman (now Tulita) town council.
He became a councillor for Rae-Edzo (now Behchokǫ̀) and served three consecutive terms as the community’s mayor, beginning in 1992. He became deputy commissioner of the NWT in July 1995, then commissioner from March 1999 until 2000.
“His family background really showed a very strong sense of family roots and connection, and I think he felt that in the Tłı̨chǫ region,” Giselle said.
“He really saw a need to help and to improve living conditions in the Northwest Territories, and part of that was giving back, and volunteering, and giving time to make our world a little bit better.”
When Dan was appointed commissioner in 1999, James Rabesca, then the North Slave MLA, described him as a “strong and personable man.”
“Over the years, Mr Marion has been there to help. If anyone needs a helping hand, Mr Marion is there. This is how Mr Marion lives and works,” Rabesca said at the time, just as the territory was being divided to form two jurisdictions: the NWT and Nunavut.
“He is a man of compassion,” Rabesca continued, “a family man that works hard for his family and community. I feel that he will make our new territory proud.”
Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief Jackson Lafferty said Dan was a mentor, friend and community member who cared for many people throughout the region.
“Dan had a big heart,” Lafferty said, calling him “a very humble person that did things for community members without any recognition.”
Lafferty recalled that Dan would hire community members to help support them and was a champion for those who wanted to pursue higher education.
“He was a huge supporter of community members that had dreams of becoming somebody someday,” Lafferty said.
“Today, some leaders and administrators are a true testament of his doing … It is because of Dan part of the reason I’m here, as well, as a leader in the community.”
In a statement, NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said Marion was an advocate for Indigenous rights and wanted Indigenous communities to see the benefits of resource development.
While mayor of Rae-Edzo in 1996, he spoke at a public hearing for the then-BHP Billiton Diamonds project – which became Ekati, Canada’s first diamond mine – to advocate for jobs in the community and economic benefits for Indigenous people.
“Marion leaves behind a legacy that has had ripple effects on the Northwest Territories. He will be missed,” Cochrane said.
Beyond his career, Giselle Marion said, her father loved working in his garden, was an avid reader and loved to socialize, often inviting people to his home.
“He was always talking with people and wondering what’s going on with them, asking who their parents were and where they come from,” she said, “because he really did know a lot of people in the Northwest Territories and he always wanted to stay connected to people.”
A funeral service is scheduled to take place at St Michael’s Parish in Behchokǫ̀ at 2pm on Tuesday, May 17. A reception will be held at Frank Channel following the burial.