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Friends say goodbye to Harry Daniels

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Cheryl Petten, Sweetgrass Writer, Regina







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On Sept. 6, Harry W. Daniels passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Daniels was many things to many people-an actor, a storyteller, a teacher, an author, and a politician on both the national and international stage. But the one thing he is most closely associated with, and the accomplishment long-time friend Tony Belcourt believes Daniels was most proud of, was his work to have the Metis people of Canada recognized in the Constitution.

Belcourt, now president of the Metis Nation of Ontario, first met Daniels 36 years ago and remembers that he demonstrated the tenacity that would help to make him a strong leader for the Metis people.

"I was vice-president of the Metis association of Alberta at the time, and Harry applied for a job as our field worker co-ordinator," Belcourt said. "And he didn't get the job. We didn't offer it to him. But he came back to us and he was really, as only Harry can be. He demanded another interview and wanted to know why. And so we hired him. Because he just had that much drive and we thought, 'Hey, this guy could really whip up the troops. So we hired him and never looked back.'"

Daniels was president of the Native Council of Canada (NCC) from 1975 to 1981, and served in that capacity again from 1997 to 2000, after the organization changed its name to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

It was while he was president of the NCC that Daniels stepped into the constitutional fray and began his fight to have the Metis recognized in the new document being drafted. His efforts helped to ensure Aboriginal and treaty rights were included in the Constitution, and that Indians, Inuit and Metis were all listed when Canada's Aboriginal people were defined in the document.

"I think most of Harry's lifetime, the part of his life that he was most proud of and thought the most of were his days when he was working on the national scene with the Native Council of Canada," Belcourt said. "But I think it was that period leading up to patriation that was certainly the highlight of his life. Personally, I know that he was very proud about that period of time and what had transpired."

Daniels loved to act and tell stories, and had a personality that commanded attention, Belcourt said.

"He was just an absolute outstanding presence of a person when he walked in the room. You just couldn't help but notice Harry when he walked into the room. And he just had that kind of commanding personality."

He was also very proud of the Michif language, and loved to speak it, Belcourt added. But one of the things about Daniels most people will remember is his humor.

"One of the things about Aboriginal people, Metis people, is laughter is a very important medicine for us, and Harry, if there was ever a good doctor that could administer laughter it was Harry. He was just wonderful to be around, and very quick-witted. I don't know of anybody that I've ever met that's faster with a comeback than Harry," Belcourt said.

"He was really fast on his feet. Very charismatic and was able to really do something. He was the kind of guy that could actually do what happened there, pull off getting Metis into the Constitution, grab Jean Chretien by the arm and make sure it happened."

Internationally, Daniels headed up a Canadian delegation to the Fourth Russell International Tribunal and was director of the World Council of Indigenous People.

Harry Daniels, who was known by many as "Harry the Dog" and "Harry the Hat," was born in Regina Beach, Sask. on Sept. 16, 1940. He attended the University of Saskatchewan, and later Carleton University where he earned his masters degree.

He was the first member of the NCC executive to be awarded an honorary presidency for life. This past June, Daniels' contributions were again recognized when the University of Ottawa presented him with an honorary degree.

In a memoriam written by Paul Chartrand, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan and other of Daniels' many friends, the importance of Daniels' contributions is spelled out clearly.

"Harry Daniels will share with Louis Riel the honor of having introduced the rights of the Metis people in the Constitution of Canada: Riel in s. 31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, and Harry in S. 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982," Chartrand wrote.

Said Andy Scott, the new Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians:

"Mr. Daniels was a charismatic leader... it is with great sadness that we learn our country has lost such a dedicated and courageous individual."