By: Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press
OTTAWA – Well-respected Manitoba aboriginal leader Elijah Harper has died.
Harper was 64.
He passed away early this morning from a heart attack due to
complications from diabetes. Harper’s wife, Anita Olsen Harper, his
children Bruce and Holly, stepchildren Karen Lawford, Dylan, Gaylen and
Grant Bokvist, released a statement.
"Elijah was a wonderful man, father, partner. He was a true leader and
visionary in every sense of the word. He will have a place in Canadian
history, forever, for his devotion to public service and uniting his
fellow First Nations with pride, determination and resolve. Elijah will
also be remembered for bringing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people
together to find a spiritual basis for healing and understanding. We
will miss him terribly and Love him forever."
Harper was diagnosed with kidney failure due to his diabetes about six
years ago and has been on dialysis ever since. He underwent a kidney
transplant just before Christmas. However his death was quite sudden and
unexpected, said Darcy Wood, an aboriginal leader from Manitoba who has
known Harper since the 1980s.
"He was a very down-to-earth person," said Wood.
Harper was raised by his grandparents in Red Sucker Lake and spent much
of his childhood on trap lines. He also attended residential schools and
eventually the University of Manitoba. Wood said Harper’s illness did
not slow him down and he continued to travel and do humanitarian work.
He was the first Treaty Indian to be elected as a provincial politician,
and Wood said Harper always encouraged indigenous leaders to
participate in mainstream politics. "He was a pioneer in a lot of ways,"
said Wood. "It is a huge loss."
Harper was born in Red Sucker Lake, and became chief of the reserve when
he was just 29 years old. He went on to be an NDP MLA and MP from
Manitoba, including sitting briefly in the cabinet of Manitoba Premier
Harper’s most well-known moment however was when he stood in the
Manitoba Legislature in 1990, held up a single eagle feather, and voted
no to the Meech Lake Accord. His vote killed Meech Lake, and led to him
being chosen as Newsmaker of the Year in 1990.
Harper has long been considered one of the most well-respected aboriginal leaders in Canada.
Well, thats the basic story. Elijah Harper was so much more than just another Indian leader. Harper was the one who showed a generation of hollywood educated Canadians that the first nations are not poor downtrodden drunken welfare bums, but rather, the landlords of this great nation. His lessons will need to be told and re-told until attitudes change.
Rest in peace Elijah, there are plenty of people ready to take over now that you have shown the way.