The community of Lhoosk’uz Dene Nation (Kluskus) is mourning the loss of a former leader, known as a trailblazer and fearless warrior.
Chief Roger Jimmie died on Oct. 13 at the age of 68.
Jimmie’s body was brought home from Vancouver to Quesnel on Monday, Oct. 18, with family and friends stopping at various communities along the way for smudging and drumming.
“Despite the discrimination and prejudice that was wielded against him and his people, Chief Jimmie was fiercely proud of his Kluskus heritage and fought for Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty, never settling for anything less than what was just and right,” the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) said in a news release.
He was a residential school survivor and had attended St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake.
He became leader in 1977 and worked with other chiefs in the Williams Lake area to protest against inadequate services and management of housing and social programs by the now-closed Department of Indian Affairs.
“Chief Jimmie always wanted to uplift his people and when he saw the opportunity for change, he never hesitated to grasp it,” UBCIC added, noting it was no surprise he became an integral member of the Constitution Express.
The landmark movement organized 40 years ago was led by Chief George Manuel to protest the lack of recognition of Aboriginal rights in the proposed patriation of the Canadian constitution by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Through it, Jimmie had worked with other notable chiefs, leaders and activists to lobby the government to ensure Canada would recognize, not abolish, Indigenous rights.
He was part of a delegation that attended the British Parliament in London, England, to champion for a constitution that would uphold Indigenous dignity and authority, UBCIC said.
“Chief Jimmie was an important person in our community, and in the later years, we knew him as the dad who was involved with his children in our schools, and he leaves behind a lovely family,” Quesnel School District superintendent Sue-Ellen Miller said at a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, sharing her condolences.
When she was briefly the interim coordinator of Indigenous education, Miller recalled how she was assigned to help find an Indigenous principal to take over the role.
One of the people she had worked with during the hiring process was Jimmie.
“I appreciated what he shared with me at that time, and I think this is a huge loss in our community,” Miller said. “This will be felt by families and children, and we will notice that in our schools.”
Jimmie served as chief for almost 30 years.
He made history in Quesnel when he and chiefs of the Nazko First Nation and Lhtako Dene Nation (Red Bluff) addressed Quesnel city council on Monday, May 2, 1993 sharing why they would not celebrate the 200th anniversary of Alexander Mackenzie.
Without changes, Jimmie said his people would never be able to lay claim to a culture, land or pride that was theirs.