The community of Délı̨nę, N.W.T., will have a funeral on Monday to mark the life of beloved community member and leader George Cleary.
Cleary was many things: a husband, a father, a grandfather, a chief, a negotiator, and an educator.
He died peacefully on Thursday in Yellowknife with family by his side, his brother-in-law, Danny Gaudet, said. He was 65-years-old.
The family has been getting support from people throughout the territory in the past few days, Gaudet said.
“He had a real big impact on a lot of people because of not only being a teacher, but everything he did with respect to the region, the community, the territory.”
On Saturday, Gaudet said his family brought Cleary back to Délı̨nę from Yellowknife to be buried in the community he loved so dearly.
They flew him over his cabin in Russel Bay and circled around a few times as he made his final journey home.
“He had so much admiration for the community of Délı̨nę,” Gaudet said. “[We] brought him home to hundreds of people at the airport.”
Gaudet was about six years old when Cleary came into his life.
Gaudet said Cleary started dating his sister, Doreen Cleary, when they were both young. Cleary quickly became part of the family, and Gaudet said over the years he became more of a father figure to him.
“He always had the time to listen to everybody and never be judgmental … and he got along with everybody; everybody really appreciated him,” he said.
Cleary was always teaching the younger generations, taking them out on the land in the summertime with Doreen and his siblings, Gaudet said.
“It was kind of like our safe haven that we needed to just to get away from what was going on in people’s lives,” he said.
Doreen and George both went on to be teachers and helped develop programming still used in schools across the territory, said Gaudet.
“They came back to Délı̨nę and … introduced new programs, especially the cultural and language program; they fought very hard to get the language program into the school,” he said.
Cleary eventually became a chief and held monthly public meetings as a way to ensure he had the blessing from the community on some of his initiatives, a practice that still continues today.
“George was able to encourage people that needed encouragement,” Gaudet said. “He not only encouraged, but he actually supported them … all through his career as a chief.”
Cleary played a critical role in the Sahtu Dene Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement as president and chief negotiator of the Sahtu tribal council. He also worked for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada as an N.W.T. regional director.
A church service was held on Sunday, after which people gathered at Cleary’s house to make food and share stories.
“We’re telling everybody, ‘Celebrate his life. We lost a good guy, but he’d rather us celebrate how he lived and how he treated everybody,'” Gaudet said.
The funeral will take place in Délı̨nę on Monday at 2 p.m.
“After the service we will have a big feast,” Gaudet added, “and in [the] traditional Dene way, we’ll have a big drum dance and dance for him — send him on his next journey.”