This month Canada Post will be unveiling three stamps to honor First Nations leadership. Two of them come from Saskatchewan.
Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier, Harry Daniels and Jose Kusugak will receive the honor for their leadership to their people. Sadly, Daniels passed on in 2004 but his legacy lives on.
Kusugak has also passed on. He was an activist and broadcaster from Ranken Inlet. He was one of the original architects of the modern-day territory of Nunavut and he was also a strong proponent of Inuit language and culture.
Daniels was born in 1940 at Regina Beach, Saskatchewan and spent a large part of his life as a Métis leader. He was the head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and in 1999 he filed a court action against the Canadian government claiming that Métis people had the same rights as First Nations under the constitution.
It took 17 years for the case to get to the Supreme Court and in an unanimous decision they agreed that under section 35 of the Constitution that Métis people were “Indians” under the Constitution. Sadly, Harry died in 2007 and never saw the fruits of his court action.
He was also an actor and in 1998 when we shot the TV miniseries Big Bear, Daniels was cast as Gabriel Dumont. In his fake beard and period clothing, he fitted the part perfectly.
Chief Day Walker-Pelletier was the Chief of the Okanese First Nation for 40 years. Okanese is in the File Hills northeast of Regina and north of the town of Balcarres.
Nationally, she is the longest serving female chief in modern times. I hesitate to be definitive because in the thousands of years we have lived here prior to colonization, I’m sure many women have held the reins of leadership.
When Day Walker-Pelletier began her long career as chief, she was often the only woman in the room. She heard disparaging remarks about her in Cree, which she understands.
She persevered in a male-dominated system and gradually more and more women joined the ranks of chief and councillors. Today, women in leadership roles are common in Indian Country. For example, all three of the woodland Cree chiefs are women.
The women leaders changed the culture of leadership by equalizing the role of women, addressing misogyny and creating a new dialogue in social issues.
For years, men thought that they were running things, but, if you look in the backrooms of the band office, women are handling the books, paying bills and doing the paperwork. Men in leadership seek to leave a legacy of monuments such as a school, houses or a new arena, while women tend to invest in the people.
Day Walker-Pelletier told me that she set a priority of education and wellness as well as revitalizing the language and culture. She told me that over the years she saw the growth in her people of her.
One of her priorities was to take control of the welfare of her people’s children. Children across Indian Country have been scooped by welfare agencies and the results have been catastrophic for the children.
It took 10 years of negotiations and planning and, at the end, she was able to build a family healing center for her people. In her honor, it’s called the Chief Day Walker Home Fire Family Centre. Her good work has been rewarded because, as she told me, there have been no children in care for four years.
Today, the new chief and council have appointed her the chair of the board of the family centre.
The File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council have recognized her work in education by creating a scholarship in her name. The scholarship is for academic excellence in university.
To qualify, recipients must be a member of one of the 11 First Nations that make up the tribal council. The scholarship is for four years with two scholarships of $5,000 per year.
The Canadian postal service will unveil the new stamps on June 13 in Regina for Daniels and on June 15 in Fort Qu’Appelle for Chief Day Walker-Pelletier. The stamps will be issued on June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day.
Doug Cuthand is the Indigenous affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. He is a member of the Little Pine First Nation.
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