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Proud her people are in the driver's seat.

Judy Gingell, the eldest of nine children, was born in 1946 on her grandfather's trapline about 200 miles south of Whitehorse. Though once a bookkeeper with a Grade 9 education, she has gone on to become one of the most influential political figures ever to come out of the Yukon, and she is this year's National Aboriginal Achievement Award winner in the community development category.

Her life began in a little camp off the main trapline, she told Windspeaker.

"They were using dog teams to check the traps, and they had to take me back to the main cabin after I was born and that was my first ride in a dog sled," she said. "Dad said it was really, really cold. You could hear the trees cracking. It must have been really cold."

Gingell said she had a very traditional upbringing. Her family lived on the land, moving with the seasons on Carcross and Kwanlin Dun traditional territory.

When Gingell reached school age, the family settled and she entered the Whitehorse Baptist residential school. One of her greatest regrets is that she made a decision to leave school as soon as she was of legal age.

"Instead of saying, 'OK Judy, you need to stay in school, graduate, and have a dream of what you want to do,' that vision was not there. I was just anxious to get away from the residential school," she said.

Education, Gingell insists, is important, and you need it to open a world of opportunity. Despite her lack of formal education, Gingell became a driving force for land claim settlements and political change in the Yukon.

The first job Gingell held was Kwanlin Dun band manager in 1969. It was from this position that she began her political career.

"Sometimes I begin to wonder if it was just natural or was it in me to stay there and lead. Both my grandfather, Billy Smith, and my father, Johnny Smith, have had leadership positions; they both became chiefs within their First Nation."

In 1973, Gingell was a founding member of the Yukon Indian Brotherhood, which presented the document 'Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow" to then prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. It was a list of grievances that became the basis for Yukon land claims.

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"Coming out of the residential school system and to understand what happened there that never should have happened, gives you the strength and the knowledge that you need to move on and make a difference so that it never happens to our people again, or even to any human being," said Gingell.

Gingell is fiercely independent, and it is this quality she brings to negotiations with the government in her drive to regain control of the destiny of Aboriginal people in the Yukon and beyond.

In 1989, Gingell was elected chair of the Council for Yukon Indians and was its chief negotiator in settling a number of land claims for the 14 First Nations of the Yukon.

"We are about near finished. Ten First Nations have concluded their agreement. We have one First Nation that is pretty close to ratifying their agreement, and we have three that are still outstanding," she explained.

"I am pretty pleased. It puts us in the driver's seat here. There is land and money out there. It gives us First Nations' self-government, power. We are another order of government, accountable to their people. It gives us the financial resources to go into businesses, partnership, joint-venture, which we will need to raise money for the programs and services within our community," said Gingell.

In 1995 Gingell was appointed by then prime minister Jean Chretien Commissioner for the Yukon, a position roughly equivalent to the lieutenant governor of a province. Largely a ceremonial post, Gingell was the first First Nations person to be appointed to such a position.

"I really enjoyed that. It was in the non-Aboriginal world. For the first year I kind of struggled with it and I wondered if this is where I want to be. Never in my dreams did it ever cross my path that I would hold this position."

After consulting with band Elders, Gingell took on the challenge and worked to build a relationship with the non-Aboriginal people that First Nations lived with in the area.

"I brought a lot of First Nation perspective to that environment that was never brought forward before. It was different but I enjoyed it."

Currently, Gingell is spending her time in Aboriginal media as a board member of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).

"Judy has a lot of experience with managing corporations that she has brought to APTN," said CEO Jean LaRose. "She is very familiar with the governance context of a board, and she has been very helpful working with me and the board to develop the strength of the board to focus on what the issues are."

Gingell is also a founding director of Northern Native Broadcasting Yukon (NNBY).

"Judy has the vision that Aboriginal people can and should be able to tell our own stories, and to that end to be able to have a network that can facilitate that," said NNBY CEO Shirley Adamson.

Gingell has been president of the Kwanlin Dun Development Corporation since 2000.

Though she had been named acting vice-president of community relations for the 2007 Canada Winter Games, Gingell stepped down from the position to devote her time to obtaining a university degree.

"I want to further my education. I have never had the time to seriously sit down and tackle that the way that I would like to. I need to do that."

Gingell has been married for 36 years, has two children and three grandchildren.

"I am one hell of a proud grandmother. I just love it. I do my best to spend a lot of time with the grandchildren. I'm really enjoying it," said Gingell. "I can understand my parents now, especially my dad. He has all of his grandchildren around him ... 'I can't even describe the love that is there,' he says. 'Not that I didn't love my children,' he says, 'but this is a different type of love. I can't describe it.' I can understand him now," said Gingell.

Life-long friend Adeline Webber who grew up with Gingell, describes her as a very outspoken person, who is friendly and able to relate to many types of individuals from prime ministers to people off the street.

Gingell gave Windspeaker this self-analysis:

"There is always a need for leadership and people getting involved in the community. There are many times when you do more than what you are hired for and you just keep on going. Just because I held a title didn't mean that I stayed in my office. You get out and you do what needs to be done."
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Young, George
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2005
Words:1142
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