It is, in the end, the story of one man and one feather.
The man is there for history to measure. He has a name, an age and an address: Elijah Harper, 41, of Red Sucker Lake, Northern Manitoba. He has a voice to speak for himself, a past that can be traced and on Friday (June 22) he took action on a matter for which he will be forever judged.
At 12:30 p.m. his very soft "No" from the back row of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly brought an end to debate on the Meech Lake Accord. Elijah Harper knows he will be both blamed and cheered for having done what no one else would dare.
The feather is not so easily explained... (Windspeaker, The feather, Elijah Harper and Meech Lake)
Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations offered his condolences to the family of Elijah Harper, and reflected on his significance to Indigenous people in Canada:
As a residential school survivor, Elijah spent a large part of his life fighting for the rights of First Nations people of Canada and for the betterment of the human condition around the world while he was a Chief of Red Sucker Lake First Nation, worked with the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, a Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, a Member of Parliament and as a Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission. As a humber leader, he made Canadian history when he, with eagle feather in hand, said 'No' to the Meech Lake Accord. He felt that the Indigenous people of this country were not being recognized or being allowed to participate in a meaningful way in that constitutional process. (Rabble,
Elijah Harper remembered: 'He will have a place in Canadian history forever')
...Prior to the meeting date, in line with protocol and tradition the Chiefs of Treaty no. 6, 7 and 8 held a pipe ceremony for guidance and understanding. This ceremony was intended to allow our Treaty partners to respect and understand the Chiefs position and to facilitate meaningful dialog. Entering the meeting, Grand Chief Makinaw stated that:
“...this must not be considered consultation, as the Chiefs of Treaty 6 are deeply disappointed by the absence of the Minister. The outcome of the January 11 meeting with the Prime Minister was a dedication to High Level meetings with Chiefs, and this does not meet that dedication and any conversation that takes place must be taken without prejudice.”
This statement, following the strong words of Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead expressed the disappointment experienced by the Chiefs, and dictated the tone of this brief discussion. The Grand Chiefs took turns putting forth a statement for the record, and after some short comments by the Minister via telephone, his communication ended abruptly. At this point the National Chief was given the opportunity to speak, and expressed support for the Chiefs of Treaty no. 6, 7 and 8 as well as the need for the Minister to sit and discuss this issue in person.
With that the Chiefs stated that they did not wish to converse with technicians as it was outside the dedication put forth by the Prime Minister, and would reserve further discussion for a, yet unscheduled, later meeting. The Chiefs then advised the INAC technicians that this means no disrespect and called an end to the meeting and began to exit...READ COMPLETE RELEASE