Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is among the official delegates from Canada attending services for Nelson Mandela.
He, along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 18 other political leaders including premiers and members of Parliament, are en route to South Africa for the memorial service to be held in Johannesburg on December 10, as well as Mandela’s lying in state in Pretoria on December 11.
The human-rights icon died on December 5 at age 95. He had served both in prison, for 27 years, and as president, for four, as the country began dismantling the system of segregation known as Apartheid. Known as Madiba by his people, the son from a line of hereditary Thembu chiefs spent most of his life fighting discrimination and racism, and championing human rights.
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“The life, work and spirit of Nelson Mandela—or Madiba, as he was called by his people—was deeply connected to First Nations in Canada not only as a fellow indigenous leader but also because of his incredible struggle for justice and reconciliation that resonates so deeply with the struggle and aspirations of our peoples,” Atleo said in a statement on December 8, upon the delegation’s departure. “Our traditions call upon us to always be mindful of the importance of such commemoration, celebration and respect to be shown to the family and to the people united in marking this loss. I will travel to South Africa as a humble representative of our indigenous traditions to pay our respects and to stand in honor of this great leader and inspiration for Indigenous peoples and for the world.”
Also part of the delegation are Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski. The NW territories will lower their flags to half-mast from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday.
“Much will be said about the character, influence and strength of Nelson Mandela in the coming days,” McLeod said in a statement. “This is an opportunity to reflect on our own experience and those around us who have carried great personal burdens. Our experiences in the North, particularly those related to residential schools, require strength and a true spirit of reconciliation for all northerners. I will be taking this week to reflect on how we can continue to work together to reconcile our past and our differences as we move forward.”
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who worked with him as a young lawyer during the 1990s as part of a team that was laying the groundwork for a post-Apartheid South Africa, is also part of the delegation.
“Nelson Mandela was a towering icon, a giant of a man and an enormously inspiring individual who courageously spent his life fighting racism, oppression, and injustice,” she said in a statement upon his passing. “He used his days walking this earth to bring freedom, equality and human rights to his people, his country and to the world.”
Redford’s grief, both personal and professional, echoed the appeal that Mandela held for Natives and non-Natives alike.
“I will always remember him as a dignified and kind man with a sparkle in his eye, who used humor to diffuse tense situations,” she said. “He taught me that the best advice comes from people who have been working in the trenches, and that leaders have to sacrifice. I remember his wisdom, his optimism and his patience. He knew that no matter what he had accomplished that there was always another challenge ahead of him and another hill to climb, and that his work was never done until he breathed his last breath.”