Elijah Harper

Elijah Harper leaves legacy of courage, integrity

It is with great sadness that Wabano Centre board and staff learned of Elijah Harper’s passing on May 17, 2013.

In his wake, the Ojibwa-Cree leader from Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba left a legacy of courage and integrity for First Peoples across Canada.

Harper made Canadian history when he stalled debate of the Meech Lake accord in the Manitoba legislature in 1990. As the clock ticked down, Harper held onto an eagle feather and refused to allow rules to be bent to speed the debate. When time ran out, the accord died.

Elijah Harper

Harper opposed the accord because the government failed to consult Aboriginal people in drafting the constitutional amendment. His stand sent a message to Canadians reminding them that Aboriginal people must be recognized in the constitution, and must be consulted in developing legislation. 

“It opened the door to allow Aboriginal people equal voice,” says Allison Fisher, Wabano’s executive director. “It was a statement of our legacy as Aboriginal people in this country going forward.”

Following Meech Lake, Harper became a media sensation, named Newsmaker of the Year by the Canadian Press. He received the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian award—an honour shared by Nelson Mandela—and a commemorative Governor General’s award for his efforts in public service.

In an official statement by the Assembly of First Nations on May 17, National Chief Atleo remarked, “Elijah’s commitment and dedication to asserting and upholding First Nation rights and recognition has helped lay a solid foundation as this hard work continues today.”

“His work is not done. He will guide us from beyond,” says Wabano board director and Elder Paul Skanks.


Harper passed away from diabetes-related cardiac failure at the age of 64. His funeral was held on May 20.