Former PAGC Grand Chief Ron Michel passes away

Ron Michel passed away on Jan. 25. He was 69 years old. (Photo courtesy Prince Albert Grand Council)

A prominent and well-respected First Nations leader from Northern Saskatchewan has died.

Senator Ron Michel of the Prince Albert Grand Council passed away late Monday. He was 69.

Michel spent years working to improve outcomes for First Nations people in northern Saskatchewan and fighting for treaty rights. He served 12 years as Grand Chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), over 20 years as Chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and two years as band councillor.

In a press release, the PAGC said he will be greatly missed.

“There are some leaders who simply command respect, not only because they display a determined, fierce and confident attitude in their cause, but because they display this vision of determination, fierceness and confidence that is driven by compassion and a deep love for the people. Senator Michel was one of those leaders,” the PAGC said in a statement.

“He loved the people and took pride in the many roles he held during his lifetime as a leader. He never showed anger in the way that many of us do – he was kind, compassionate, and met challenges with respect. He respected the people he encountered whether for business or pleasure and he respected the role he played as a leader. A lifetime cut too short, we are thankful for his service to our people.”

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron remembered Michel as a respected leader and advocate for the treaty right to health.

“Thousands of us have known the man and have developed a strong connection with him… with his honour and his guidance and advice,” Cameron said Tuesday.

“His leadership abilities speaking in a room of thousands of people — you could hear a pin drop when he spoke because he had a way of getting a message across in a stern voice, but also a humble voice.”

Grand Chief Ron Michel, far right, stands next to FSIN chief Bobby Cameron for the opening of the PAGC’s General Assembly Monday. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said Michel was a “great leader in our community.

“He was a great leader for First Nations people,” Dionne said.

“He really believed in treaty rights and the basics of housing, water and food. I was really blessed in my career to work with such a gentleman.”

Cameron said Michel’s legacy will live on in his fight for a First Nations hospital in Prince Albert where First Nations people can be treated well and fairly.

“He talked about implementing our treaty right to health and the medicine chest clause, that one day the City of P.A. and the PAGC will have their own First Nations hospital, run by them, organized by them. That was his goal and one of his dreams. We will carry on with those dreams for as long as it takes us.”

PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte, who succeeded Michel in the role. He served under Michel as a vice chief and counts the man as mentor and friend.

“I’m shocked. I’m totally shocked,” Hardlotte said Tuesday.

“It’s a great loss. He was a good friend, a mentor. He was, for me, a father or uncle figure.”

Like Cameron, Hardlotte credited Michel for his work advocating for health care.

When the Victoria Hospital expansion was announced early last year, it was also announced that the PAGC would take part in planning for the facility. The inclusion of the PAGC is part of efforts to ensure the new facility is responsive and comfortable to all.

The PAGC is also moving ahead with its own medical centre and pharmacy. Both facilities are thanks to the tireless advocacy of Michel.

“He played a huge part in that,” Hardlotte said, adding that it’s been the leadership of Michel and of PAGC executive director Al Ducharme that has helped make progress on the health care front.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne and Premier Scott Moe examine an artists’ rendering of the new Prince Albert hospital as PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte and past grand chief Ron Michel look on. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

It’s far from his only legacy, though. Hardlotte credited Michel with creating the PAGC women’s commission and the PAGC senate. His term as grand chief also included the establishment of the PAGC’s veterans ceremony at remembrance day, and the opening of the Northern Lights Casino.

“Those are just a few legacies,” Hardlotte said.

Michel grew up living a traditional life on the land, Hardlotte said. Later on, Michel ran to become a band councillor, and was successful. That position led to Michel serving as chief, before he decided to serve as PAGC grand chief. He later served as a PAGC senator and a special advisor to the FSIN.

In 2017, Michel retired after four terms as PAGC grand chief.

In his last words as grand chief, Michel told all delegates at the council’s assembly to “be kind to your people … talk to your people, you’re no higher than anybody else,” he said.

“You take care of your people and you’ll never regret it.”

His words earned a standing ovation.

Speaking to the Herald Tuesday, Cameron said Michel leaves behind a legacy in all he inspired as a leader.

“Many of us, including myself, laying in bed, thinking of all the memories we had, the good laughs, some of the challenges we had in lobbying and advocating the provincial and federal governments for the betterment of our First Nations people … we’re going to miss the guy. He was an exceptional human being, a strong role model. For many of us, including myself, we had to shed a few tears last night,” he said.

“But when we got up, we prayed and thanked our God for taking him home because he is no longer suffering. We’re going to miss him, but we’re going to carry on and continue the work that he left behind.

It wasn’t just other politicians who took inspiration from Michel.

“He was a very influential man and inspired young people,” Hardlotte said.

“I often went with him to graduations in the spring where he would speak to the young people about their future. A lot of things he said I ended up picking up and saying to young people. People loved him because of his work, working for the people and having compassion for his people.”

Outside of politics, Michel was known as a family man.

The PAGC sent its “heartfelt condolences” to Michel’s family, including his wife of over 50 years, Nancy.

“She and their family knew Ron was a special man and a leader whom many respected and appreciated,” they wrote.

“He loved his family, as a son, a husband, a Moshum, an uncle and in all facets of being part of a family and extended family.”

“He was a strong grandpa, a loving husband, a loving dad,” Cameron said.

“He was a man who many of us had come to love and respect tremendously.”

“It’s a big loss for First Nations people, for the Prince Albert Grand Council, FSIN and Assembly of First Nations,” Hardlotte said.

“Truly a great man, a great, compassionate man, has now left this world.”