Memorable Manitobans: Elijah Harper (1949-2013)
Born at Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba on 3 March 1949, he attended the University of Manitoba where, with other future leaders such as Ovide Mercredi and Phil Fontaine, he formed a native association. He left university before graduation and returned to Red Sucker Lake where, in 1978, he was elected Band Chief. In November 1981, he was elected as an NDP candidate to the Manitoba Legislature, becoming the first Treaty Indian to be so, and was re-elected in the March 1986, April 1988, and September 1990 general elections. Appointed to the provincial cabinet in 1986, Harper was Minister without Portfolio (1986-1987) and Minister of Northern Affairs and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs (1987). In 1987, he left the cabinet over a drunk driving incident.
Harper came to national and international attention when, in 1990, he voted against a motion to ratify the federal Meech Lake Accord, thereby ensuring its demise. He was named the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year later that year and he received the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award in 1991. The event was portrayed in the 2007 movie “Elijah.” He resigned his provincial seat in November 1992 and was elected a federal Member of Parliament in the 1993 general election, holding the seat as a Liberal for one term before being defeated by the NDP in the 1997 and 2000 general elections. He was appointed Chairman of the Indian Claims Commission in 1999, holding the position until his death. He advocated for abolition of the Indian Act, contending it treated Aboriginal peoples “like children” and was widely admired for his advocacy on behalf of indigenous people around the world. In recognition of his distinguished community service, Harper was inducted into the Order of Manitoba (2010) and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Winnipeg (2011).
He died at Ottawa, Ontario on 17 May 2013 as a result of complications arising from diabetes.
Members of the Legislative Assembly (deceased), Legislative Assembly of Manitoba.
“The humble man who said ‘no’,” Winnipeg Free Press, 18 May 2013, page A13.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 10 June 2020
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