Lucy’s Legacy

I fell in love with this photo of my great grandma.

The fact that my heritage can be traced back to Lucy Peter, one of the most respected women of my community, makes me proud and reminds me that I have a lot to live up to because I am a reflection of my family.

Looking at her photo, you can’t help but feel her spirit — it shines through her eyes and smile. Her wisdom and strength will continue to influence her community for generations to come.

Lucy Peter was born in 1906, a member of the Crow Clan of the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun, and lived through many changes up until her death in 1999. She married Sam Peter and had 10 children, five of whom survived.

All of her children were born at Old Village — the site where most Nacho Nyak Dun Elders spent their lives before moving to Mayo. She shared many stories about life at Old Village and a huge part of her always wanted to move back.

Lucy and Sam were the last to leave the village in 1959 after being relocated to Mayo by an Indian Agent. The move to Mayo brought many changes that every community in the Yukon is familiar with.

The nomadic lifestyle that they had previously lived, hunting and fishing, was threatened, and most of their culture and language was lost. As cited in Gold & Galena: A History of the Mayo District by the Mayo Historical Society, it was around this time that the “Mayo Indian Band” would emerge.

You can see Lucy Peter’s nephew, Peter Lucas, in the photograph taken on Parliament Hill with Elijah Smith and the Yukon Native Brotherhood when the document Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow was presented in 1973. This marked the beginning of an effort to restore the identity, rights and culture of First Nations people in the Yukon.

Lucy and Sam played important roles in ensuring that the self-government and the Final Agreement for Nacho Nyak Dun were consistent with their strong beliefs.

Lucy could always be found at home, making moose soup and drinking tea. Visitors would stop in to share stories and be in her strong presence, including numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The sense of community and generosity that she had at the Old Village was important to her. She was very dedicated to her church and although she was strict when it came to her teachings, she could also laugh and find humour in stories. I am fortunate enough to have my grandmother’s oral history recordings to listen to; many of them are in her language.

I recently read about the sacredness of breath and sound, and this is apparent in both her voice and laugh. I think it is important that we pass our stories on and honour our ancestors.

They survived an era that most of us can’t even begin to fathom. Thanks to their determination and strength, we are here today, with every opportunity available to us.

Mussi Cho, Lucy and Sam Peter.

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