Frank Calder, the Nisga’a chief whose courage and perseverance made it possible for aboriginal land claims to be recognized in Canada and who inspired other native claims around the world, died Nov. 4 at the age of 91.
Mr. Calder, a lifelong Anglican, died from cancer and the effects of abdominal surgery. “It was one of the few battles he lost in a remarkable life that began in a cannery shack and ended with multiple honours from ‘the white man’s world,'” the Globe and Mail noted in a moving obituary. “They included the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia and an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria.”
In 1949, Mr. Calder became the first native elected to a provincial legislature and was also the first aboriginal cabinet minister.
But it was his role in the settlement of the Nisga’a “land question” and the 1973 Supreme Court of Canada decision that bore his name, that stand out as Mr. Calder’s enduring legacy.
“Opposed, ridiculed and defeated at every turn during a time of almost total public indifference to native land claims, the Nisga’a Tribal Council, led by Mr. Calder, indomitably pursued the matter all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada,” the Globe and Mail noted.
“He was responsible for the revival of the Nisga’a land claims which led to a change of policy and allowed aboriginal people from across the country who did not have treaties or any settlement of their aboriginal rights, to now negotiate with the government,” noted John Hannen, the former bishop of Caledonia and a Nisga’a elder, in a 2004 story that appeared in the Diocesan Post, the newspaper of the diocese of British Columbia.