The family of Elijah Harper regrets to announce the passing of the much loved, respected and influential Oji-Cree leader and Indigenous activist.
Elijah is survived by his loving wife Anita Olsen Harper, his devoted children Marcel, Bruce, and Holly. He was a wonderful stepfather to Karen Lawford, Dylan, Gaylen, and Grant Bokvist. He is predeceased by his daughter Tanya and his parents Pastor Allan B. Harper and Ethel Catherine Harper. He also leaves behind his beautiful grandchildren: Anna-Lise and Kieran Lawford; Wastehya and Anna Khesic-Kway Harper; Elijah, Kaleigh, and Juliette Andreasen-Harper; Dayna and Blake Harper; and Edward, Christopher, Nicholas, and Madison Harper. He was very close with his nephew Darren Harper, son of Saul, and survived by many other family members.
Elijah was born on March 3, 1949 at Red Sucker Lake First Nation in northeastern Manitoba. He had many brothers - Fred, Les (Chief of Red Sucker Lake First Nation), Saul, Marius, Darryl, and Edmund – and sisters Dorothy, Mary-Jane, Louisa, Madeleine, Gladys, Eileen, and Marilyn.
He attended residential school and later studied at the University of Manitoba.
He began a long career in public service when he was elected Chief of his community at the young age of 29.
In 1981, he was elected as Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly for Rupertsland, an office he held for 11 years. He was the first elected First Nations person to serve as MLA. In 1996, he was appointed to the Manitoba cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio for Native Affairs, and in 1997, as Minister of Northern Affairs.
He was best known for his historic role in blocking the Meech Lake Accord. Many Canadians will remember the humble, yet, iconic figure, seated in the House of Assembly raising his ever-present eagle feather, refusing unanimous consent of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. As result, he was recognized as Newsmaker of the Year by the Canadian Press in 1990.
In 1993, Elijah was elected as Member of Parliament for the riding of Churchill. In January 1998, he served a term as Commissioner for the Indian Claims Commission.
Red Sucker Lake First Nation bestowed on him the title of Honourary Chief for Life for his heroic work. He is also the recipient of the Commemorative Medal of Canada, the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Order of Merit from St. Paul's University, the Order of the Sash from the Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Gold Eagle Award from the Indigenous Women's Collective in Manitoba. He is also a member of the Order of Manitoba. In recognition for his distinguished leadership in Canada's Aboriginal community, he was also awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from Carleton University and an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Winnipeg.
Following his active career in public service, Elijah spent much of the rest of his life visiting First Nations, meeting with Indigenous leaders across North America, working with charities, and doing international humanitarian work.
Donations in memory of Elijah may be made to the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence P.O. Box 2169, Khanawake, Quebec J0L1B0 (450) 638-2968 or the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, Suite 401-300 Cooper Street, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0G5 (613) 230-5885. Funeral arrangements entrusted to McEvoy-Shields Funeral Home and Chapel (613-737-7900).
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Winnipeg Free Press