Cardinal's funeral set for Tues.
- Cardinal's funeral set for Tues.
By JOHN COTTER
EDMONTON (CP) - Canadian aboriginal leader Harold Cardinal got his point across with a passion and intelligence that cannot be denied. In 1969, Cardinal, who was 24 at the time, accused Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Indian affairs minister, Jean Chretien, of trying to "exterminate" First Nations through the proposed repeal of the Indian Act.
Cardinal, a Cree, said such a loss of aboriginal rights would lead to cultural genocide.
"The history of Canada's Indians is a shameful chronicle of the white man's disinterest, his trampling of Indian Rights," Cardinal wrote in his landmark book The Unjust Society.
"Generations of Indians have grown up behind a buckskin curtain of indifference, ignorance and, all too often, plain bigotry."
Cardinal's words and leadership were a call to arms for a generation of aboriginal activists, some of whom will gather at the Sucker Creek First Nation in northern Alberta on Tuesday for Cardinal's funeral. He died of cancer last Thursday at age 60.
Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, remembers nervously meeting his hero in Manitoba when he was a young university student in the 1960s.
Fontaine said he was immediately struck by Cardinal's intelligence, vision and political savvy.
"I looked upon him with envy because he was so sure of himself," he said in Halifax. "He became our spokesman. He made us proud."
Elijah Harper, the former member of the Manitoba legislature who helped kill the Meech Lake constitutional accord in 1990, recalls meeting Cardinal in university with a handful of other aboriginal students in 1970.
Cardinal's outspoken attack against the federal government only 10 years after Ottawa had given aboriginals the right to vote thrilled them all, he said.
"He paved the way," Harper said in Winnipeg. "It was great to hear him speak. He was such a very young man. Challenging the government. Nobody had done that before. We became part of the new revolution fighting for our rights as Indian people."
In 1968 Cardinal became the youngest person elected president of the Indian Association of Alberta.
He went on to serve nine terms and also represent Prairie First Nations during constitutional conferences.
Cardinal worked as an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan and completed his law degree there.
He earned his master's degree at the Harvard School of Law and was awarded a PhD in law from the University of British Columbia the day before his death.
Beverley Jones, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, first met Cardinal at a native law program in 1991 just after the Oka crisis near Montreal.
Jones, a Mohawk, said the words he wrote in 1969 and in subsequent works on aboriginal rights still ring true.
The "buckskin curtain" has been worn down a bit over the years, but is still a fact of aboriginal life, she said.
"He had a major impact on my decision to get involved in aboriginal issues," she said.
"What he wrote in 1969 is what we are still dealing with today. There has been some recognition of racism and discrimination, but we still deal with it on a daily basis."
One of Cardinal's sons, Sheldon, said his father never tired of speaking about the importance of education in the lives of aboriginal people.
All six of Cardinal's children have at least one university degree and his wife recently received her PhD in education.
"He inspired us all," Sheldon Cardinal said. "It warmed his heart. He had so much pride."
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