Ray was born April 26, 1939 at Takhini Crossing to Marge & Peter Jackson; to the Ägunda (Wolf) Clan and his beloved Champagne and Aishihik First Nation. Ray is predeceased by his parents and his siblings, Margaret, Oliver, and Ronnie. He is survived by his uncle Paddy Jim and aunt Sadie Brown, siblings Jackie Jackson, Florence Griffith, and Grady Jackson; by his devoted wife Jenny (Clunies-Ross), daughters Crystal and Sue-Ann; granddaughter Kaitlen and newly born great grandson, Lucas. Ray is also survived by a large extended family of nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, foster children and others that he and Jenny supported.
Ray spent much of his early childhood in hospitals due to a serious car accident at the age of 2 1/2. Away from his siblings, friends, and his parents who visited when they could, Ray’s early years were spent among nurses and visiting missionaries. It would take until the age of 12 before a procedure could be found that would allow him to walk again. Often bedridden during these many years of confinement, Ray found innovative ways to satisfy his interests and curiosity, including teaching himself to read.
Ray wanted more that anything to walk and after hearing bible stories from the Baptist missionaries about faith and miracles performed by Jesus, he vowed that he would devote his life to the Lord if he could walk again. His surgery was complex and difficult and while successful, it forced Ray to develop his own unique way of walking. Determined to find his own way in life, Ray found solutions to the challenges he faced. He showed this resolve throughout his life. In many ways we was like his mother Marge.
At age 12 and able to walk, Ray entered Grade 1 at Whitehorse Baptist Mission School. In 4 years he completed 8 grades. When the latter school closed, he transferred to Choutla Residential School, graduating in 1956. Young Ray is remembered for always helping other students with their homework. He contributed artwork and wrote great detailed stories for the Choutla Grayling Newsletter. Ray turned his physical limitations to an advantage, whether it was swinging from tree to tree as Tarzan, or playing pool.
Ray was both a very serious teenager and “very cool”. He sported an Elvis Presley haircut and wore a beautiful beaded jacket made by his mother. He is remembered as the person who introduced “the twist” at a dance in Champagne. Because he didn’t drink, Ray was often asked to be a designated driver; his time in bars was spent becoming a serious pool player. Ray found ways to adapt cars so he could drive, attaching wooden blocks to the pedals so his feet could reach them. He was known for his passion of fast cars, especially Corvettes.
Ray attended John Oliver High School in Vancouver, and dealt with a bout of TB in Grade 10. Following graduation he took a bookkeeping course, an important skill in his later work.
In 1961, Ray began his studies towards becoming a Baptist Minister in Whitehorse, later transferring to Berean Bible College in Calgary. In his last year there (1965), he met the love of his life, Jennifer Clunies-Ross. In 1967, Ray and Jenny were married in Creston, BC and moved north to Yukon. Thus began a beautiful marriage and partnership of 49 years, which later included their beloved Crystal and Sue-Anne.
In 1969, Ray became active in Yukon First Nations right movement when Elijah Smith engaged him to take on two important tasks: oversee the Yukon Native Brotherhood finances and promote cohesion among a diverse assembly of Yukon Chiefs.
During these years Ray and Jenny strove to build a Baptist ministry. On Sundays they would go to Ross River, Pelly or Carmacks, driving around honking their horn to announce that service was about to begin. Ray always brought along his guitar and his puppet “Charlie”, which was used to tell Bible stories to kids. Ray loved teaching and was a natural teacher.
Ray was devoted to Champagne and Aishihik people. Band Manager for many years, he was elected Chief in 1972 and 1978. With others, he fought to stop the construction of the Aishihik Dam due to concerns about its impact. When the project went ahead despite objections, Ray demanded jobs for CAFN citizens. Ray could see opportunity where others saw defeat.
In 1973, Chief Ray was one of the 12 Yukon First Nation leaders who along with Elijah Smith, presented “Together Today for Children Tomorrow” to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. This important work essentially established the foundation for the modern land claims process. By the mid 1970’s, Ray had been elected President of Yukon Native Brotherhood (YNB). In 1987, he became Vice-Chair of Council of Yukon Indians (CYI). He was employed by YNB/CYI for a total of 11 years and worked for CAFN numerous times, even into his retirement, and he was a valued member of many CAFN boards and committees.
Ray was a wise and courageous leader with a unique leadership style. Sometimes he led from behind and other times he stepped out and stood his ground, with opinions that were not agreeable to all. He did not follow convention but kept his sights on horizons beyond what most see, he was a true visionary. This is a remarkable quality and so needed in the challenging times over the past decades. Ray lived these challenges personally- he learned to walk again, he became his own person, self reliant and empowered. These very personal challenges made him the leader and human being we honour and celebrate today.