Harry Daniels, Metis leader and spokesman extraordinaire, has passed away. I was blessed to know Harry well, and associated with him excellently during the Aboriginal constitutional conferences of the 1980s. The defining ingredient in our relationship was the sharing of a lot of intense non-seriousness, in the backdrop of solemn business itself; of defining, and defending, Aboriginal rights in the nation's Constitution.
Harry was primarily responsible for getting the Metis peoples recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982. This was just not done. Unless, of course, you were Harry Daniels, working and succeeding against impossible odds. The unconditional support extended by Inuit leaders to the Metis people for their recognition forged a deep and lasting bond among their respective leaders.
I once helped arrange having Harry "badged" as an "Honorary Eskimo" at one of the countless inter-Aboriginal meetings of the time. He was extremely and genuinely proud of the honor, and would kid others with, "Don't mess with me, I'm an Honorary In-OOK!" or, "I'll sic my Inuit brothers on you!"
During speeches at meetings with government ministers, he relished quoting something or other I had said, calling them "Nungak-isms." Chief among these was calling the whole process of Aboriginal people seeking constitutional protection of their rights as one of "seeking to do constructive damage to the status quo."
Among his own people, Harry was nicknamed "Harry the Dog." When I told him that "dog" was qimmiq in Inuktitut, he insisted on training his tongue phonetically on saying the word right.
Thereafter, many an overly serious discourse on constitutional minutae was pleasantly interrupted by Harry trying to wean his tongue off "kim-MILK" to "qimm-IQ." He would get it perfect, but would have to be trained all over again at the next meeting.
Had we known of Harry's other nickname, "Harry the Hat," we would have had an easier phonetic training assignment, of teaching him to say nasaq.
But then, the meeting sessions would have been dreadfully monotonous. Harry was delighted to master the few words in Inuktitut we taught him, and was never shy to test-drive them on any Inuit "brothers" he encountered.
Harry Daniels was a gifted orator who spoke from the heart. He did his job of asserting the rights of the Metis people with vivid passion. I never once heard him merely read a speech in drab monotone. He spoke as he lived, with color, with humor, and in a manner that could be described by all who heard him as being really alive!
People with charismatic character are often described as being one-of-a-kind. Harry was certainly that, and more. If he stepped on more than a few toes in the course of shaking out some recognition and respect for the Metis people, he did it with class, and without insulting anybody. This was no small feat, considering what was arrayed against upgrading any legal regard for the Metis by some very powerful forces in the country.
Although his people have been downtrodden through history, Harry never carried himself with any sense of inferiority to anybody else. In one speech, he lectured, and educated, government ministers about the damage done to Aboriginal peoples by artificial divisions imposed upon them by governments into different legal statuses. He spoke movingly about the inanity of the term, "non-status Indian."
"You're a non-something! How can anybody be proud of being a non-something?"
Whatever else he was, Harry was never a "non-anybody."
"Hey, brother! Hey! Fellow Eskimo!" His voice would boom deep across the lobby of a hotel or a meeting room. Then he would embrace me in a vise-grip bear hug, and, without skipping a beat, slide right into how we'd have to lean hard on such-and-such, a minister at the next ministerial sit-down. He'd have me on side before we sat down. This was just not done. Unless, of course, you were Harry Daniels, pouring it on in complte sync with your Inuit brothers!
He was a born leader, blessed with charm.
The Metis people have lost a great asset in Harry Daniels. But all who knew him have been enriched by his natural magnetism.
Rest in peace, Harry, our honored fellow In-OOK!