Who is Elijah Harper?
Harper was born in Red Sucker Lake, a reserve in northern Manitoba. He attended residential schools in Norway House, Brandon and Birtle, Manitoba, then secondary school at Garden Hill and Winnipeg. He studied at the University of Manitoba in 1971 and 1972, and later worked as a community development worker, a supervisor for the Manitoba Indian Brotherhood, and a program analyst for the Manitoba Department of Northern Affairs. In 1990, Harper achieved national fame by holding an eagle feather as he took his stand in the Manitoba legislature and refused to accept the Meech Lake Accord, a constitutional amendment package negotiated to gain Quebec's acceptance of the Constitution Act, 1982. The proposed Accord was negotiated in 1987 without the input of Canada's Aboriginal peoples. For ratification, the Manitoba assembly would have had to unanimously consent to a motion allowing it to hold a vote on the Accord. With only twelve days before the ratification deadline for the Accord, Harper began a filibuster which prevented the assembly from ratifying the Accord. As a result, Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells cancelled a proposed vote on the Accord in the Newfoundland legislature. The Meech Lake Accord required ratification by all ten provincial legislatures and parliament to come into effect. As Meech Lake failed to pass in both Manitoba and Newfoundland, the constitution was not amended. The same year, he won the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award, was voted as the "Newsmaker of the Year in Canada" by the Canadian Press, was awarded the title of Honourary Chief for Life by Red Sucker Lake First Nation, and received a commemorative medal of Canada from the Governor General for his efforts in public service. Harper also opposed the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, despite the fact that Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovide Mercredi supported it. Quiet dignity. That’s how Elijah Harper is perceived in the eyes of Canadians. When he uttered the firm and eloquent “No” that blocked the passage of the Meech Lake Accord in the Manitoba Legislature in 1990, he exemplified the growing political clout of First Nations across Canada. Eagle feather in hand, Mr. Harper cited the lack of adequate participation by Aboriginal people in Canada’s political process as his reason for blocking the accord. His efforts garnered him distinction and accolades such as the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year Award and the Stanley Knowles Humanitarian Award. A member of the Red Sucker Lake First Nations, he became chief at age 29. He was elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1981 where he served for 11 years. In 1986, he was named to Cabinet as Minister Without Portfolio Responsible for Native Affairs and in 1987 became Manitoba’s Minister of Northern Affair. In 1993, Mr. Harper assumed the national stage again when he was elected Liberal MP for Churchill, Canada’s third largest riding. He currently sits on the House Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. After a lengthy illness he brought 3,000 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together in Hull, Quebec in a Sacred Assembly in December of 1995. They met to find a spiritual process for resolving political problems. He received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Public Service for his example and dedication to resolving the political and social problems of First Nations