CAFN Mourns Passing of Chief Paul Birckel

CAFN Mourns Passing of Chief Paul Birckel



July 9, 2021

Dakwäkäda (Haines Junction) – Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) is in deep mourning following the loss of our Chief of many years, Paul Birckel – Nashiya, on July 8, 2021.

“We stand on the foundation Paul built.  It is his vision for our nation that we carry on,” said Dän Nätthe Äda Kaaxnox (Chief Steve Smith).  “To his children and family, we are deeply saddened and pray with you. We want to honour your father for all he did for our people, and continue to show our appreciation.”

Paul Birckel was elected Chief of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in 1978 and served his people for 20 years in that role.  During that time, he led CAFN to complete and sign our Final and Self-Government Agreements with Canada and the Yukon in 1993.  These were ground-breaking agreements and the first of their kind in Canada and the world. Today these agreements continue to be the foundation for CAFN’s strong government and to improve our peoples’ lives every day.  CAFN’s land claim agreement, one of the first four in the Yukon, remains a model for self-determination and self-government for Indigenous people across the globe.

“Paul embodied dän shawthän – he was a good Southern Tutchone person – the kind of role model we still aspire to be like today. He was a strong, dedicated leader, yet always led with kindness, gentle strength, respect and humility,” said Dän Nätthe Äda Kaaxnox.  “He was also very economically savvy and was involved with many Yukon First Nations economic development projects.  The vision to develop Matätäna Resort at Kathleen Lake is also part of his legacy.”

Chief Paul served his people for decades in many leadership roles:

  • Executive Director of the Council of Yukon First Nations;
  • Chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations;  
  • President of Dakwakada Development Corporation;
  • Chair of the CAFN Elders Senate Executive; and       
  • General Assembly delegate.

 Paul Birckel’s contributions to Canada and his own people were recognized through awards, including the 2000 Indspire Award Laureate and the 2002 Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.

 Paul was born October 25, 1938 on the shores of Kluane Lake to parents Paul and Lilly Birckel.  He spent his early childhood traveling, harvesting and living a traditional life throughout dakeyi (our country) in areas known today as the CAFN and Kluane First Nation traditional territories.  During his youth while attending school he lost his ability to speak Dákwänjē (Southern Tutchone), but always understood it because his mother never stopped speaking it to him.  As an adult, he lived and raised his family for many years in Whitehorse and Klukshu, worked as Chief in Dakwäkäda/Haines Junction, and practiced subsistence living – trapping, fishing, harvesting at Dezadeash Lake.

Paul was married to Kathy Birckel (Joe) for more than 61 years, and together they had three children (Gary, Gail and Darrel), five grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

His wisdom, knowledge, vision and contributions to a better life for his people will never be forgotten.

For more information:

Amy McKinnon, Strategic Communications Manager

(867) 332-1973 o



Jenna Henderson, Communications Officer

(867) 334-6264