‘You felt his love for life’: Remembering 92-year-old knowledge holder Gabe Kochon

(Photo courtesy of Rose McNeely)

“My dad always had a string in his pocket.”

That’s something Rose McNeely will never forget about her late father Gabe Kochon.

He was always prepared to be on the land, she said.

She remembers him having everything from snares and even peppermint candy on him in case of an emergency.

These were considered essential survival items.

Gabe was recognized as a highly respected Elder in Rádeyı̨lı̨kóé (Fort Good Hope) that pushed for the revitalization of culture, language and on-the-land activity.

Above all else, he was a believer in his community, the people and the Dene way of life.

Gabe was known and will always be remembered as an avid teacher, natural storyteller and had a great influence on the youth in his community.

“I’m so grateful that my dad lived with us this long and he taught us quite a bit,” says Rose.

Gabe even led an annual youth canoe trip in the community teaching youth about the land, on the land.

Survival was key

Gabe was instrumental in the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline negotiations, commonly known as the Berger Inquiry, standing with the Dene people and upholding the Dene way of life.

“The animals live off the land the same as the people does. The animals live on plants, grass and other things. Everything that moves on the land live from it, without it, we cannot survive,” he said during the inquiry.

Gabe dedicated his life to the land and respecting its bounty was crucial to his mission.

Fort Good Hope Chief Tommy Kakfwi says the community lost an important knowledge holder.

“His contribution to the community, you can’t measure it,” he said. “He was so well respected.”

Gabe was a regular at all community meetings.

“Even if he wasn’t invited, he went anyway, participated in all the meetings,” Kakfwi said with a laugh.

“He shared his knowledge on history and traditions of the community.”

Kakfwi says the loss will be difficult for the tight-knit community.

“To have all that leave the community leaves us… How can we recover all that knowledge?” he said.

Kochon was a fluent Sahtúgot’įné Yatı̨́  (Slavey) speaker and has been his entire life.

Joseph Kochon is his nephew and says, “Everything he did was to (help) the community.”

Martina Kochon is Joseph’s wife and she says she’ll miss his ” big kisses and warmth.”

“He had an aura that shinned you could feel it when you were in his presence,” she says.

“You felt his love for life.”

Gabe wanted to ensure his community could provide for themselves with all he’s taught them.

Coming home

Sadly, this is not the first death in the Kochon family this year. Gabe’s wife Sarah passed away on Mother’s Day.

“Every day he got up, he went across to the grave to visit my mom, “Rose says,” And then (again) before he goes to bed.”

“He was really, really lonely,” she said, “He wanted to be with my mom.”

Kochon and his wife were married for 71 years.

Marissa McNeely is one of his granddaughters. She says her grandparents were a really big part of her life.

Losing both of them in such a short amount of time has been difficult to deal with, she says.

The community is still reeling from the outbreak of COVID-19 and she says everyone is taking the precautions necessary and isolating at home.

Gabe is understood to have contracted the virus after attending Treaty 11 commemoration events earlier in the month.

“No one was using masks or gloves at the time,” says Marissa, “because who would’ve known COVID would have come all this way.”

Marissa says she’ll never forget her grandfather and all he’s taught her along the way – including the importance of the Elders, fishing, and hunting.

Gabe will be buried with his string and peppermint candy so he’s ready for his next journey.

The string rests as a symbol of his resourcefulness and ties to his Dene traditional teachings and the candy for sustenance.

The funeral is scheduled for Sept. 4, where Gabe will be buried beside his wife, just like he wanted.

About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. On her spare time, you can find her at your local coffee shop writing songs, poetry and prose or at the gym out-lifting men. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com or call 867-766-2552 Ext 108