(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the passing this morning of respected Elder Elmer Courchene of Sagkeeng Anicinabe First Nation is a profound loss for First Nations across Turtle Island.
“Elder Elmer Courchene was a proud, sovereign Anicinabe who understood deeply his traditional teachings, values and ceremonies,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “He always took time to share those teachings with young people, with political leaders, and people from all cultures because those teachings held insight and value for all of us. I always valued his words and guidance. Losing Elmer is like losing a part of our history. But his teachings and spirit remain. Today I convey my deepest condolences and prayers to his family and community.”
Elder Elmer Courchene is from Sagkeeng First Nation in what is now Manitoba. He is a respected Elder across Turtle Island and known as a strong advocate for sovereignty, culture and language, and the rights and safety of First Nations women, girls and children. He was strong in his traditional language and, as a survivor of the Fort Alexander Residential School, understood the importance of maintaining and revitalizing First Nations languages and teachings.
“My heart is broken, and I offer condolences to the Courchene family, the Manitoba and Ontario regions and every individual and leader Elmer has guided over the years,” AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart told the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly this morning. “Elmer has a strong spirit and was a true warrior. He gave his life to his people until his very last breath. This showed in his life’s work. Elmer’s legacy is in the vision he shared with us for the seven generations ahead and the little ones. It will continue in all our work going forward as we uphold our sovereignty and nationhood.”
Elder Elmer Courchene became the resident Elder at the Assembly of First Nations in 2005 and first served as Chair of the AFN Elder’s Council under National Chief Phil Fontaine. During that time, he helped advise in the negotiations that led to the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
“Elders are precious and they have walked a life of teaching and passing on their knowledge to young people,” said AFN Regional Chief for the Northwest Territories Norman Yakaleya. “Truly, Elder Elmer has walked this path and ‘Mahsi’ for your guidance, and on behalf of the Elders Council and Dené Nation we pray for his family at this time.”
As Chair and long-serving member of the Elder’s Council, Elder Courchene provided advice and guidance to National Chief Phil Fontaine, National Chief Shawn Atleo and National Chief Bellegarde. The AFN Special Chief’s Assembly began yesterday with acknowledgement and prayers for Elder Courchene, and a chair and blanket are in place with the Elders as a reminder of his presence and spirit.
The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada. Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.