Cancer Claims Dr. Dale Auger at 50: A Life of Many Talents and Contributions

By Clint Buehler

CALGARY – Talented, accomplished and dedicated to his culture, Dr. Dale Auger died September 23 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 50.

Dale was a larger-than-life individual who, in his many different roles, made an impact on everyone with whom he came in contact, establishing powerful bonds with many of them. He believed he had the spirit of the loon, which could live in many worlds.

Dale, a proud Sakaw Cree and member of the Bigstone Cree Nation, was born in High Prairie, AB in 1958. Raised by his mother, Rose, a renowned traditional healer, Dale grew up steeped in the Cree traditional culture and spirituality that would guide him all of his life.

Without ever forsaking his roots, Dale vigorously pursued paths of artistic and academic achievement, often with some sacrifice as his wife, Grace pursued a law degree at the same time, and they were raising their three young children. Somehow they still found time to play key roles in a variety of activities in the Native community.

Dale studied at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton where he was Alumni of the Year; Mount Royal College and the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary; and the University of Calgary where he completed his Bachelor of Education degree in 1992, his Masters in Education in 1996 and, ultimately, his Ph.D. in Education in 1999.

In the meantime, he was gaining recognition for his art, colorful and dynamic acrylic and oil paintings expressing the symbols and legends of his culture.

Dale and his family experienced an unexpected segue when Sekwan, the oldest daughter, was cast as the young Indian girl, Isabel Two Decker, in the major motion picture, “Legends of the Fall,” starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Julia Orman, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas, Gordon Tootoosis and Tantoo Cardinal, and directed by Ed Zwick. Not only did many of the stars and Zwick become collectors of Dale’s art, but Ormond took Grace and Sekwan on a trip to her native London, England.

Among Dale’s many contributions was a major annual dramatization each summer at Millarville, south of Calgary, which Dale would write and he and Grace would produce, often involving horses and teepees and complex scenarios.

Dale was much in demand as a speaker, renowned for his inspirational presentations, especially to youth, leavened with storytelling and humour. He was also active in representing his people in various activities of the Bigstone Cree Nation, including as a member of the Bigstone Health Commission.

Dale was also the author and illustrator of the award-winning children’s book, “Mwakwa – Talks To The Loon,” for which he was awarded the Aboriginal Children’s Book of the Year Award in 2006, and the 2007 R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature.

However, Dale’s greatest devotion was to his family, with their annual spiritual quests in the mountains, and his full involvement in the lives and activities of his children and, later, his grandchildren.

Dale is survived by Grace, his wife of 27 years, his daughters Sekwan and Neepin (who is following in his footsteps as an artist) and son Sohkes, and grandchildren Cree, Nitanis and Gracie..

A celebration of his life was held at the Bragg Creek Centre southwest of Calgary on September 28.