Don Cardinal of the Sucker Creek Cree Nation of Alberta, one of the most influential spiritual leaders in North America, journeyed on to the spirit world May 20 in the company of his family and the prayers of countless friends.
He has left a priceless legacy in the wisdom that he shared with people of all nations.
First and foremost are the traditional values of kindness, sharing, caring, truth and loyalty, the basis for all human interaction given to us at the beginning of time and the core, he said, of how each one of us must first learn to treat ourselves.
These ''principles,'' as he called them, are the keys to letting go of the fears and angers that disrupt our using the special spirit that the Creator has given each one of us.
Cardinal's life was dedicated to extending the healing ceremony of the sweat lodge, the sacred pipe, medicines and tobacco, and the vision quest to all people who would benefit by them. He gave them their ancestral names, their herbs and their helpers. In the way of the true elder, no one was ever turned away. He reintroduced cultural teachings to First Nations people as an elder at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the aboriginal doctor at the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Center there, and as a counselor to people throughout Canada and the United States.
He also shared his knowledge through programs in Geneva, the United Nations, at Brandon University in Manitoba, and at Hofstra University and Manhattanville College in New York state, where he also conducted ceremonies for the general public for 17 years.
Cardinal was an expert on treaty law and was instrumental in the defeat of the 1969 White Paper, devised by the Trudeau administration to exterminate the treaty rights of aboriginal people in Canada. He was an expert in the Cree language, politics, and education. He was also a survivor of the residential school system.
Everyone who knew him recognized immediately the humility, gentleness and dedication that permeated everything he did and said. Reporters who came to interview him came away with a healing. He would travel 2,000 miles just to build a sweat lodge for Native people. He often ran ceremonies in multiple locations, traveling back and forth, working day and night. He would lift the spirits of 125 Sun dancers with a flick of his eagle fan and healed a gathering of 500 people in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks with only a few minutes of prayer.
He never turned away from a challenge and continued to counsel until the evening that he passed. The sacrifices he made during his life, he always said, were worth the joy he found in seeing people healed.
Cardinal re-opened ceremonial grounds throughout Turtle Island. He said that they are the key to finding our way back to where the Ancient Ones are waiting for their children. The old ones, he said, left the markings, the grandfathers that are rising up, to indicate the paths that will guide us to the place where we will find the fires and the ways that have been lost.
Traditional ceremonies to honor him were held in Alberta May 25, where he was laid to rest, and in Winnipeg May 23.
He is survived by his wife, Allison, and his 10 children, Jackie (Dennis), Lewis (Patricia), Lorne (Cheri), Lisa, Tami (Robin), Trevor (Lisa), Tara, Andrew, Megan and Sabrina; his grandchildren, Pam, Mary, Jacqui, Hunter, Shelby, Michael, Shaina, Darryanne, Lane, Kale, Darius, Talan, Dakota and Jessy; and great-granddaughter Delaney. He was predeceased by his mother, Agnes; his father, Frank; his brothers, Harold and Ronald; his sister, Florence, and his grandson, Denny.