Probe sought in native elder's death
Mourners say she was ill-treated in jail
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Eugene Harry of the Squamish Nation, above, leads the funeral yesterday for native elder Harriet Nahanee at the Squamish Nation Hall in North Vancouver.
Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province
Suzanne Fournier, The Province
Published: Thursday, March 01, 2007
Hundreds of mourners honoured elder Harriet Nahanee yesterday as aboriginal leaders and human-rights activists demanded an inquiry into "the death of another elder who died after being jailed."
"We have heard allegations of her mistreatment in jail and I join the many human-rights groups who are calling for a full inquiry into the death of Harriet Nahanee," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said at Nahanee's funeral at the Squamish Nation hall in North Vancouver.
"The courts have to stop criminalizing us when we assert aboriginal rights and title. We must also be consistent in demanding accountability, and the facts and circumstances particular to Harriet's incarceration need to be fully investigated."
Nahanee, 71, a feisty but frail activist, died in hospital last Sunday of previously undiagnosed lung cancer and pneumonia. Her lawyer, Lyn Crompton, says she may have contracted pneumonia at the Surrey Pre-Trial Centre.
Crompton, responding to a frantic phone call, was the only person allowed to see Nahanee in jail.
"She wasn't well and couldn't sleep because of the noise -- she was put in with 26 women, some of whom were racist and violent and were rough to her, jostling her, shoving her down and pretending it was an accident," said Crompton. "I wanted her safe and to get her some medical attention but the centre only offered a psychiatrist."
More than 500 friends and family of Nahanee, known as Thitspa7s and "Grandma" to 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, attended the funeral, along with aboriginal leaders, including Squamish Chief Bill Williams.
"Harriet was my friend and mentor and she died asserting her aboriginal rights and thinking of her people," said Nahanee's friend Skundaal Bernie Williams, dressed in traditional cedar hat.
Vancouver actor Dalannah Gail Bowen, who saw Nahanee in hospital, said, "I called the jail several times but I was told I couldn't see her -- I kept demanding that she get medical attention but she told me she hadn't even seen a nurse. There's no doubt in my mind that Harriet's death was certainly hastened and possibly caused by how she was treated in jail."
Justice Brenda Brown sentenced Nahanee on Jan. 24 to 14 days for criminal contempt of court for her part in the Sea-to-Sky Highway-expansion protest at Eagleridge Bluffs.
Brown, who was told that Nahanee should not be jailed because of her frail health, rejected Nahanee's aboriginal-rights argument.
After nine days in jail, Nahanee was sent home. A week later she was sent to St. Paul's Hospital, where she died.
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