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Bessie John

Bessie John, Nelnah, 1923-2000

Bessie John of Beaver Creek, was a well-known Yukon elder who worked for years teaching and promoting the Upper Tanana language and culture.

Bessie's traditional name was Nelnah, and she was a daughter of the late White River Johnny (also known as Little John). Bessie was born at Nìį'ìį (Sourdough, Yukon) and lived at Tayh Chìį and other traditional sites in the Scottie Creek drainage.

During the Council for Yukon First Nations general assembly at Aishihik in 1989, it was Bessie's uplifting and emotional speech that convinced the chiefs to accept the White River First Nation as the fourteenth Yukon First Nation at the land claims table.

In 1989, Bessie began teaching the Upper Tanana language at Beaver Creek School. She was a member of the 1992 graduating class of the Native Language Instructor Certificate Course at Yukon College.  After retiring from her position at the Beaver Creek School in 1993,  she continued to assist in language and cultural instruction, helping, in 1995, to produce the Upper Tanana-Scottie Dialect Glossary.

In 2004, her contributions to community life were recognized when the school in Beaver Creek was renamed the Nelnah Bessie John School.

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