Elijah Harper, a former Manitoba MLA and MP who was a key player in defeating the Meech Lake accord, has died at the age of 64. Harper died early Friday in Ottawa as a result of cardiac failure due to diabetes complications, according to a statement released by his family.
Harper achieved national fame in 1990 by holding an eagle feather as he stood in the Manitoba legislature and refused to support the Meech Lake accord, effectively blocking the constitutional amendment package negotiated to gain Quebec’s acceptance of the Constitution Act of 1982.
Harper protested that the proposed accord was negotiated in 1987 without the input of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
The accord required ratification by all 10 provincial legislatures and Parliament, and Harper’s action prevented Manitoba from doing so before the deadline. Newfoundland followed by cancelling its free vote in the legislature.
Family says Harper ‘a true leader and visionary’
His wife, Anita Olsen Harper, his children and the family said in the statement that Harper “was a wonderful man, father, partner. He was a true leader and visionary in every sense of the word.”
The statement added: “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.”…READ FULL AT CBC
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’)
Greatness is a Gift…He Was Our Gift