Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elijah's essence was most easily found in the wilderness

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It was a gloomy Friday morning when I found out my old friend Elijah Harper had died. It was hard to believe as I had just met him recently on a flight back from Ottawa and he looked happy and healthy. He told me he had recently had a kidney transplant that he desperately needed and everything was great. It was a short conversation but I will always remember the serenity about him that day.

It was about 25 years ago that I had the pleasure of meeting Elijah, at the time he was the minister of Northern Affairs for the Province of Manitoba, but you would have never of thought he held such a position.

Aside from being unpretentious he had a great sense of humour and in his eloquent way he could always find something good in somebody or something. These attributes surely came from his years living in one of the poorest communities in North America: Red Sucker Lake First Nation.

Back in the day Eijah and I went out to nightclubs that were packed with people wearing all those fancy clothes, perfume, gold chains and dancing to disco music. No, we weren't there to pick up girls; we were "people watching." With a few cocktails and inconspicuous table we would watch how silly people would get. At the end of the night our stomachs hurt from laughing so hard!

Unfortunately, it was all a matter of time before one of us got caught for driving under the influence and it was Elijah who ultimately paid that price. Like everything else he did in life he accepted his punishment and became a better man.

We kept in contact over the years and the next time we really bonded was in California. He and his beautiful wife Anita came to Laguna Beach and spent a few days with us. I will never forget watching him sit under a tree looking out at the ocean. He was there for hours when I decided to sit with him. It was like sitting in a boat fishing with your best friend, no words were spoken but we both knew each other's thoughts. A couple of days later, I drove Anita and him to a medicine man in Los Angles that had saved his life and recently was a part of saving my life as well. Thanks Elijah!

One of the greatest adventures we ever had was camping in northern Alberta along the shores of the mighty Athabasca River. It was a cold evening and Elijah started one of the biggest bonfires I had ever seen, within a matter of minutes we were as warm as toast. So much for Indians and small fires! He told us stories of his life on the reserve from hunting and fishing, to his family that he loved so much. It was there that I saw Elijah's essence, surrounded by a forest, a billion stars and that beautiful river.

God bless you, Elijah Harper!

Kim Sigurdson is a Winnipeg entrepreneur and freelance writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 A15

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