OTTAWA, Ontario (May 17, 2003) – The family of Elijah Harper regrets to announce the passing of the much loved, respected and influential Cree leader and Indigenous activist.  He passed away early this morning as a result of cardiac failure due to diabetes complications.

His wife, Anita Olsen Harper, his children and the Harper family have offered the following statement:

“Elijah was a wonderful man, father, partner.  He was a true leader and visionary in every sense of the word.  He will have a place in Canadian history, forever, for his devotion to public service and uniting his fellow First Nations with pride, determination and resolve.   Elijah will also be remembered for bringing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together to find a spiritual basis for healing and understanding.  We will miss him terribly and Love him forever.”

Elijah is survived by his loving wife Anita Olsen Harper, his devoted children Bruce and Holly.  He was step-father to Karen Lawford, Dylan, Gaylen and Grant Bokvist.  He is predeceased by his daughter Tanya.

The Late Elijah Harper was born on March 3, 1949 at Red Sucker Lake First Nation in northeastern Manitoba.  He was educated at residential school and later studied at the University of Manitoba.

Elijah began his long career in public service when he was elected Chief of his community at the young age of 29.

In 1981, he was elected as Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly for Rupertsland, an office he held for 11 years.  He was the first elected First Nations person to serve as MLA.  In 1996, he was appointed to the Manitoba cabinet as Minister without portfolio for Native Affairs, and in 1997, as Minister of Northern Affairs.

He was best known for his historic role in blocking the Meech Lake accord.  Many Canadians will remember the humble, yet, iconic figure, seated in the House of Assembly raising his ever-present eagle feather refusing unanimous consent of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.  As result, he was recognized as Newsmaker of the Year by the Canadian Press in 1990.

In 1993, Elijah was elected for one term as Member of Parliament for the Churchill riding.  In January 1998, he served a term as Commissioner for the Indian Claims Commission.

Red Sucker Lake First Nation bestowed him the title of Honourary Chief for Life for his heroic work.  He is also the recipient of the Commemorative Medal of Canada, a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Order of Merit from St. Paul’s University, the Order of the Sash from the Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Gold Eagle Award from the Indigenous Women’s Collective in Manitoba.

Following his active career in public service, Elijah spent much of the rest of his life visiting First Nations, meeting with Indigenous leaders across North America, working with charities, and doing international humanitarian work.

Funeral Arrangements will be announced once they are known.

For more information:

Jennifer Wood
Phone (204) 805-2325

Aaron Cardinell
Phone: (289) 251-3846