Today, Canada Post unveiled a new commemorative stamp recognizing Métis leader Harry Daniels.
A politician, activist, writer and actor, Daniels dedicated his life to the rights and well-being of Métis and non-status Indians in Canada. Many consider his contributions to Métis rights to be without equal in modern-day Canada.
“I think his legacy is still unfolding,” says Murray Hamilton, friend of Harry Daniels, at the University of Saskatchewan. “50, 60, 100 years from now, Harry’s legacy might even be bigger than [Louis] Riel’s.”
Early leadership roles
Born in 1940 in Regina Beach, Saskatchewan, Daniels was known for his sharp wit, zest for life and the broad-brimmed black hat that he sported in honour of his bison-hunting forefathers.
At age 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy, after which he studied at the University of Saskatchewan. His schooling, along with the study of rights movements in the United States, piqued his interest in Indigenous politics.
Daniels was first elected to office in 1972 as vice-president of the Métis Association of Alberta (now Métis Nation of Alberta). He was elected secretary-treasurer of the Native Council of Canada (now Congress of Aboriginal Peoples) in 1974 and went on to serve as its president and chief executive officer.
Over his more than 40 years of service to his community, he was a member or founder of numerous organizations concerned with Métis rights, and represented Indigenous and Métis peoples provincially, nationally and internationally.
But it was with the Canadian Constitution that Daniels made his greatest impact.
One of Daniels’ most important contributions was successfully leading an effort to convince the federal government to enshrine the inherent rights of Métis and non-status Indians in the new Constitution. As a result, Métis are included, along with First Nations (“Indians”) and Inuit, as Indigenous (“Aboriginal”) Peoples in the Constitution Act, 1982.
“Without question Harry’s greatest accomplishment was getting us, the Métis people, into Canada’s Constitution,” Tony Belcourt, f. “Harry knew if the word Métis was not specifically included that governments would always say we don’t have any responsibility for Métis people. He demanded that there be a clause in the Constitution to identify who the Aboriginal peoples were – and he wanted the word Métis there.”
Daniels v. Canada
Constitutional recognition, however, was just a first step for Daniels. Since 1867, the federal government had recognized only “status Indians” as being its jurisdictional responsibility. The provincial governments had also not claimed responsibility for Métis and non-status Indians.
To this end, in 1999, Daniels and several other plaintiffs launched Daniels v. Canada to determine the federal government’s relationship with the two groups.
The case was not decided until 2016, 12 years after Daniels’ death, when the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Court ruling that Métis and non-status Indians are Indians under the British North America Act, 1867, and therefore come under the federal government’s jurisdiction.
Accomplishments and honours
Over his lifetime, Daniels wrote several books on Métis issues and many articles and papers on the Constitution and Indigenous rights. An actor of both stage and film, he also held degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa (an honorary doctorate).
During his later years, he taught Métis history at the University of Saskatchewan and guest lectured at universities across Canada.
In March 2004, Daniels was awarded the Order of the Métis Nation by the Métis National Council. He passed away later that year.
The stamp honouring Harry Daniels is part of Canada Post’s new multi-year Indigenous Leaders stamp series. This year, along with Daniels, Inuit activist Jose Kusugak and former Chief of the Okanese First Nation Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier are also being recognized.
Stamp series recognizes three Indigenous LeadersAvailable now