Chief Elijah Harper recently passed away after a life of ex-traordinary influence. Though the profile of what he has done might appear obvious and well known, some of his influence awaits the future-a future that isn’t always easy to see in our present circum-stances. The struggles of the past, the continuing injustices and the alienation on all sides make reconciliation seem devastatingly complex. Chief Elijah acted as a prophet, both by pointing beyond these to a different future and, at the same time, uncovering a sig-nificant truth in our past: God placed the seeds of a positive future in the foundation, at the point of Canada’s beginning.
At a gathering in Winnipeg in 2008, Chief Elijah told us that when other peoples began to enter the land, the elders’ vision was positive. They knew that the land was big enough and great enough to allow the People of the Land to welcome other na-tions; together, these nations could build a good life for our children and grandchildren. He could not agree to the Meech Lake formula for constitutional reform because it did not recognize the truth of Canada’s founding; it was based on the lie that Canada had only two founding na-tions. It was a framework for a future that continued the misery of the past.
Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Chief Elijah, also a Chris-tian minister, saw God’s hand at work in the foundation of a nation that, for much of its history, failed to acknowl-edge the full humanity of his people. Both prophets perceived the hand of God present in the founding of their nations, planting seeds of hope and justice that would yield the destiny of this land.
Chief Elijah’s vision waits for the nation to have the full spiritual and political capacity to receive it. But, as he once told me, Prime Minister Harp-er’s apology in 2008 opened the door to let it happen. I would also say that another beginning moment was in Chief Elijah’s refusal to accept the Meech Lake Accord. With his “no” he proclaimed and reclaimed the humanity of his people-something no human being or nation has the right to take away or ignore. He was also claiming a future for all Canadians. It was a future he lived in-a future he invites us all to live in.
BISHOP MARK MACDONALD is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.