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Ralph Steinhauer: Prominent Native leader passes away suddenly


Dianne Meili







Page 1

Ralph Steinhauer, who passed away on Sept. 19 after pulmonary problems, will be remember by many as one of the most prominent Native leaders in the 20th century.

Though best known as Alberta's 10th lieutenant governor serving from 1974 to 1979, he also established multiple Native organizations to help his own people.

"He led by example. He was a leader who could motivate people sheerly through his own self-confidence and the confidence others had in him," says Hugh Dempsey, associate director of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and a close friend of Steinhauer.

The Cree leader, born in Morley, Alberta in 1905, considered himself basically a farmer, but he had an "overriding sense of obligation to serve his people," Dempsey points out. Steinhauer is quoted in the Western Producer magazine as having said: "I have farmed all my life ? I have no capacity for anything else. Having an education just wasn't all that easy in my time."

Steinhauer did have a desire to get an education, though, and enrolled in Grade 4 at the Brandon Indian Residential school in Manitoba when he was 15 years old. He originally attended the Red Deer Indian school, but was constantly moving around because his father was involved in United Church missionary work. He eventually finished at the Brandon school with Grade 8.

Perhaps influenced by half-days spent working in the Brandon school farm, Steinhauer established his own farm on the Saddle Lake reserve in 1929. A year before he had married Isabel Davidson, a school teacher at Vilna, Alberta. The couple eventually had five children.

Steinhauer first political ties were with the United Farmers of Alberta in the 1920's; he went on to beocme district president of the organization. In later years he would become chief of the Saddle Lake reserve, president of the Indian Association of Alberta, and the first North American Indian to run as a candidate in a federal election. In 1963 he made an unsuccessful bid for the Vegreville Liberal seat.

Aside from politics, Steinhauer is credited for developing agriculture on Indian reserves and Metis settlements throughout Alberta. At the Saddle Lake reserve, he helped develop a project which eventually brought 12,725 acres of land into production. His own grain and cow/calf operation was an example of superior farming techniques.

Steinhauer was appointed to the Alberta Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1984 and was also awarded the Order of Canada medal. But, second only to his appointment as lieutenant-governor, his proudest moment came when he was named to the Kainai chieftainship in 1976.

"They named him Flying Eagle. It was a major concession on the Blood Tribe's part because of past differences. Steinhauer was a Cree ? and the Cree are traditional enemies of the Bloods," explained Dempsey. "It showed how much he was recognized by all Native people."

Dempsey, who was an honorary secretary of the Indian Association of Alberta in the late '50s and early '60s, maintains Steinhauer was one of the best presidents the association ever had. "At the time he was with them, there were a number of battles going on with Ottawa. He played a major role in helping protect the rights of Indians in the early '60s." Steinhauer is quoted in a news article as having said, "I was always at loggerheads with the Indian Affairs department. Maybe I was a bit backwards about saying what I thought."

Steinhauer may have had a lot to say concerning political issues because he was so well informed.

"He was a voracious reader. He was tremendously well read," Dempsey says, adding he was also a devout member of the United Church. Dempsey believes Steinhauer may just as well have preferred to stay on his farm reading rather than become involved in politics and fighting for Native rights.

"I remember him as not really wanting to get into politics. He was elected to the tribal council more out of duty than anything. He knew he was needed and that he could get the jo done, so he did it. He was a tremendous individual."

About 1,000 politicians, chiefs, ex-chiefs, relatives and friends attended Steinhauer's funeral at the Saddle Lake United Church Sept. 23.