Saskatchewan elder Jim Sinclair lost his battle with cancer on Friday, November 9. He was 79.
Sinclair was born in 1933 in Punnichy, Saskatchewan. According to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan he grew up poor in an aboriginal squatter community in the Qu’appelle Valley and became a fieldworker for the Métis Society of Saskatchewan (MSS) in 1964.
In 1967, he was elected to the board of the MSS and in 1971 he became the organization’s president. During his tenure as president, which lasted 18 years, he helped establish the Native Council of Canada—now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples—and he fought to get more adequate housing, alcohol treatment centers and educational opportunities for Métis people.
The Leader-Post called him “a man who battled giants for his people and changed Canada.”
“He’s a legend in Indian Country, now he’s up there with all the great political leaders of all time,” Don Ross, a friend and mentee of Sinclair’s, told the publication. “His accomplishments to the Métis, in particular, will live on forever through the Constitution of Canada.”
That’s because in 1982 Sinclair was instrumental in having the Métis declared as one of the aboriginal groups of Canada and included in the Constitution.
“The government couldn’t beat him, it was cancer that beat him,” Ross added.
“He was one of those first hard-nosed indigenous politicians, unafraid of hard negotiation and willing to go the extra mile to make sure his people's rights were respected,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a statement.
“We will always remember the accomplishments that Jim made on behalf of Métis and aboriginal peoples,” Betty Ann Lavallée, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said in a press release. “His legacy lives on and will continue to influence the social, political and legal landscape for generations to come.”
Sinclair served as president of the Congress of Aboriginal People from 1994 to 1996 and has accrued a long list of accomplishments. Among them are being awarded the Order of the Métis Nation in 2004 and just last month he was honored by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN).
During the FSIN ceremony, Sinclair was wrapped in a blanket while drummers sang an honor song.
“It really touched his heart. As they always say it’s good to honor people while they are alive so they can see how much they are loved and how much powerful an impact they had on our communities,” FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde told the Leader-Post. “Now the challenge is to pick up where we he left off.”
Hundreds gathered for a traditional funeral that was open to the public on Thursday, November 15.