Ojibwa-Cree Red Sucker Land band member – former Chief – NDP opposition member of the Manitoba Legislature from 1981-1992, he will be forever remembered as the man who stood against the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord in 1990.
Sitting quietly in his legislature seat, holding a single Eagle feather, he appeared to be a lone wolf who actually represented many. One word was repeatedly what he brought forth – “No”. It was that No that would stall the process and it was that No that ultimately scuttled the Meech Lake Accord. He said the deal ignored aboriginal rights and so he could not vote for it. There too he appeared to be a lone wolf. One can only imagine the pressure.
For many Canadians today, Elijah Harper is probably but a fleeting memory. For the very young, perhaps no memory at all. Do we teach that moment of history in our schools today? I do not know. What I do know is this. Looking to that time, there was nothing so profoundly powerful an image as Elijah Harper in his legislature chair with his Eagle feather and his serene dignity refusing to bend to the tide. That image swept across the nation and touched the hearts of many. No matter your politics, then or now, it cannot be ignored that Elijah Harper brought honour to the political landscape of our country. We could use more like him.
I am not First Nations. I have not had the privilege of walking that road, at least not in this lifetime, so there is no way I can truly know what it must have felt like, for him or for the First Nations people, then or now. What I can reflect on is the enormous pride he brought to many. There stood a man of integrity willing to fight, oh so quietly, for what he believed in. He was a member of our human family who just happened to call Canada, home.
As you read the biographies, you come to know that Elijah Harper was not without his frailties. There too he was one of us, perfect in his imperfections.
Bless you, Elijah. You were an inspiration.
May your journey home be a gentle one.
We are grateful.