Charlie Barnaby, a founding member of the Indian Brotherhood and major figure in NWT politics, has died.

The former chief of the K’áhshó Got’ı̨nę First Nation in Fort Good Hope passed away on April 9, just over a week after his 90th birthday.

Born in Fort Good Hope in 1932, Barnaby is perhaps best remembered as one of the 17 NWT chiefs, led by Francois Paulette, who launched the Paulette Caveat case in 1973. Spawned by the planned construction of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, the legal challenge concerned the rights of the Denesoline people to one million square kilometres of land in the NWT, as laid out in treaties 8 and 11.

“He was never one to sit on his hands in the back when things were going on,” says Barnaby’s son, Antoine Mountain, who was working as director of communications for the Indian Brotherhood at the time of the Paulette Caveat.

Although Justice William Morrow sided with the chiefs, the Supreme Court of Canada eventually overturned the right to register the caveat. The case was nevertheless considered a landmark, helping to spawn the Dene/Metis comprehensive land claim process.

Outside of politics, Mountain says his father was a skilled hunter and trapper, and someone who loved and respected the land.

“My favorite memories always have to do with going out on the land with him. He had an older-style Indigenous outlook on the land, so he saw the animals that we needed as food as knowing the type of the person that the hunter is,” says Mountain.

He says his father continued to hunt and trap even during the Paulette Caveat years.

“Of course, everybody had to be a good provider in the North, otherwise you would be relegated to being a vegetarian,” Mountain quips.

Despite his father’s love of the land, Mountain says it became harder for Barnaby to partake in his usual activities as he got older.

“He always wanted to be on the land, so I think that really affected him later on when he had to just remain in the community.”

Even in his later years, Barnaby remained active in politics, including the local Elders council and the Dene Cultural Institute.

Barnaby was also deeply community oriented, opening his door to anyone, particularly Elders, according to Mountain.

“Our home pretty well (had) an open-door policy. So anybody that needed somebody, or even somebody just to talk to, they could come over. And Elders knew that they could have a traditional meal anytime they came by, and they would have some people that wanted to listen to their old-time story,” he says.

Mountain, who wrote a newspaper column for 15 years, says he takes after his father in his outspoken ways.

“Somebody has to say something, is what he told me. People will not like you if you say something that they don’t agree with, but somebody has to say it.

“People cannot allow it just to go by, he said — we have a right to be in our home country. And we have to speak up every time that is being threatened.”

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