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Maisie Cardinal accepted the degree on behalf of her late husband at the grad ceremony on May 31 - photo by Ed Ellis
Maisie Cardinal accepted the degree on behalf of her late husband at the grad ceremony on May 31 - photo by Ed Ellis

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 5 | May 4, 2006

Harold Cardinal: An Inspirational Warrior

By Prof. Wesley Pue, Assoc. Dean of Graduate Studies, Faculty of Law

Harold Cardinal, an outstanding First Nations leader, lawyer and scholar, receives his PhD in law posthumously at this spring’s Convocation.  He passed away on June 3, 2005.

Raised on the Sucker Creek Cree Reserve, Cardinal rose to national prominence as President of the Indian Association of Alberta.  First elected at 23 years of age, he worked during nine terms in office to develop and preserve Indian culture.  Cardinal was a key figure in the creation of the National Indian Brotherhood, the precursor of the Assembly of First Nations(AFN), and took part in pivotal negotiations with the federal government of Canada over its Indian policy.

“I have known Dr. Harold Cardinal since long before he completed the triple crown of becoming a ‘Doctor, Lawyer, and Indian Chief’,” said AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine. “He truly has been an inspirational warrior and leader for First Nations all of his life.”

His first book, The Unjust Society: the Tragedy of Canada’s Indians (1969), published before he was 25 years old, clearly outlined the historical, customary, and legal rights of First Nations peoples.  Its impact was enormous.  It for the first time educated large numbers of non-aboriginal Canadians about the profound injustices that characterize Canada’s treatment of First Nations.  Cardinal’s example inspired new generations of First Nations women and men to assume leadership in their communities. 

Prior to earning his doctorate in law at UBC, Cardinal completed his LLM at Harvard University and served as Indigenous Scholar in Residence in the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta.  A recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, he was awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Alberta in 1999.

At UBC Cardinal is remembered by Prof. June McCue for “the support, humour and joy that he brought” to the gatherings of First Nations law students.  He was, she said, “our philosopher, scholar, leader, and companion.” 

At UBC, Cardinal brought unique qualifications to his PhD research on the relationships between Cree and State law.  Cardinal invested years in acquiring the learning offered by Cree elders and he uniquely, deeply, bridged two worlds. n

Publications of Harold Cardinal

  • The Unjust Society: the Tragedy of Canada’s Indians (Mel Hurtig Publishers, 1969; republished Douglas & McIntyre, 1999)
  • The Rebirth of Canada’s Indians (Mel Hurtig Publishers, 1977)
  • Alberta elders’ Cree dictionary = Alperta ohci kehtehayak nehiyaw otwestamâkewasinahikan by Nancy LeClaire & George Cardinal; edited by Earle Waugh; Cree consultants, Emily Hunter, Earle H. Waugh, and Harold Cardinal (University of Alberta Press, 1998)
  • Treaty elders of Saskatchewan: our dream is that our peoples will one day be clearly recognized as nations (with W. Hildebrand). (University of Calgary Press, 2000)
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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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