Grand Chief Edward John was born at Nak'al Bun (Stuart Lake), in northern British Columbia in 1949. He was taken to the Lejac Residential School on Fraser Lake, but completed high school at Prince George College, where he was elected class president. He attended the University of Victoria, graduating in 1974 with a BA in Sociology. After a year as the executive director of the Prince George Indian Friendship Centre and a year as education director for the Tl'azt'en First Nation, he enrolled in the law school at the University of British Columbia. Chief John states that he "went to law school to help shape what this country could be."
After graduating the LLB program in 1979, Chief John articled at Bate & Company in Prince George. He was called to the bar and briefly continued working at Bate & Company, before starting his own practice in 1981, focusing on aboriginal rights and criminal defence work. His skillful work as a lawyer occupied whatever time was not taken by his work on aboriginal issues. In 1983 he was elected Tribal Chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, and 1990 he was elected Chief of the Tl'azt'en. In these roles, he worked to establish the Dene Law Centre in Fort St. James as well as the Yinka Dene Language Institute. The language institute seeks to retain and promote the Sekani language, as well as the Carrier language of which Chief John is considered to be an eloquent speaker. In 1991 he helped found the First Nations Summit, an organization to represent BC First Nations involved in treaty negotiations with the government.
Chief John has served extensively in elected office. He has been elected to the First Nations Summit Task Group for 11 consecutive terms, where he deals directly with the federal and provincial governments in the treaty process and Aboriginal title and rights negotiations. He was chosen as a representative of the British Columbia First Nations in the constitutional process which concluded with the Charlottetown Accord. He has represented the Association of First Nations internationally at the Indigenous People's Summit of the Americas in Buenos Aires. From 2011 to 2016, Chief John served as the North American representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Closer to home, he was the Minister for Children and Families in BC from 2000 to 2001. Following this, Chief John further demonstrated his dedication to indigenous youth as a Special Advisor on Aboriginal Chid Welfare to the Minister of Children and Families in BC. This position culminated in his final report - Indigenous Resilience, Connectedness and Reunification – from Root Causes to Root Solutions: A Report on Indigenous Child Welfare in British Columbia. Chief John was also involved in the development of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Chief John has received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Northern British Columbia, where he was appointed to the university's inaugural Board of Governors in 1992, as well as from the University of Victoria.
In May 2018, Chief John was awarded the Alumni Award of Distinction by the Allard Law Alumni Association for his work towards social and economic justice for Canada's indigenous peoples. This award recognizes outstanding achievements of an Allard School of Law alumnus/alumna whose endeavour in the practice of law, government service, the judiciary, business, legal academe, community service, or other areas have brought honour to the school. The award honours an individual who has made a significant contribution to his/her field. Chief John is admired by his colleagues for his strategic thinking, compassion, and being rooted in strong values.
Watch Chief John's Alumni Award of Distinction video to learn more.