Chief Dr. Wilton Littlechild: Advocate for The Rights of Indigenous People
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild is a Cree chief and lawyer who has worked in Canada and internationally (including with the UN) to advance the rights of Indigenous people and their treaties.
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild is well known for his involvement in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which focused on raising awareness about former Canadian policies which undermined the culture and livelihood of Indigenous Canadians. Doctor Wilton is also a former sportsman and Member of Parliament. He is a husband and father to three.
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild was born on 1st April 1944 in Maskwacis, Alberta.
He was raised by his grandparents and grew to become the first native of Alberta to become a First Nations treaty person ("Treaty Indians are Indians who are registered or affiliated with a treaty band and are descendants of Indians who signed treaties with the Crown". Source: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) after earning a law degree from the University of Alberta.
Doctor Wilton became interested in indigenous people’s rights from an early age after being schooled continuously by his grandfather on the traditions of his people and the problems they faced. His grandmother helped him take an intellectual approach to fighting for the rights of his people by stressing the importance of education.
“My grandfather schooled me in the traditional and cultural ways of our people; my grandmother was a great believer in education and she made certain that my grades were kept up,” he said. “She was right, of course because education is one of the reasons why I have been able to realize some success in life.”
Alberta Native News
Doctor Wilton spent a better part of his early childhood in residential school. His experience in residential school was sad and tragic, however, he chose to focus on positive experiences.
He spent 14 years in these institutions and though he did experience and bear witness to many sad and tragic scenes of abuse, he prefers to focus on and remember the positive experiences. “Life might have continued to take a negative turn, but when I found sports, it was the beginning of a new era for me,” he explained. “I was saved by sports.”
Alberta Native News
It was during this time that Wilton developed a love for sports after realizing that he just needed to work hard and participate as often as he would. He applied this same philosophy in his studies. This helped him excel as a student and sportsman.
In fact, he was able to secure a place in university because of sports. Sports gave him an opportunity to play as well as become a coach and a promoter. He also met his wife Helen through sports. They have been together for 45 years. Wilton, better known as Willie in his early life engaged in all kinds of sports from hockey and football to swimming and basketball. He earned his Physical Education degree in 1967 and his Masters in Physical Education in 1975.
Professional Career as a Lawyer
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild is best known as a lawyer. He decided to pursue law while attending a pro hockey academy as coach of his own all-Aboriginal hockey team. While attending the academy, Wilton noticed that most of the people who were invited for the academy were lawyers. He also learned there were only three aboriginal lawyers in Canada at the time and realized the need for lawyers specializing in indigenous law. That’s when he decided to put his sporting plans on hold and join law school.
“I quickly realized that there was a real need for lawyers, especially when it came to Indigenous law, so I put my sports plans aside for the moment and went to law school.”
Alberta Native News
Wilton graduated and set up his own law firm. He was also honoured by the Cree Nations in the process for his achievement.
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild has worked with the UN for more than three decades. He has gained a lot of respect nationally and internationally as a pioneer of International Indigenous Law. He is a renowned advocate for the implementation of all treaties made between the Crown and Indigenous people and a global pioneer of the Indigenous rights movement.
His work in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Chief Wilton’s most significant role as an advocate has been as a Truth and Reconciliation commissioner. In his capacity as commissioner, Chief Wilton has been able to fight for the rights of Indigenous people for 6 years. He is most proud of this achievement although he had reservations initially to serve as a commissioner because of time constraints. At the time of his appointment, Wilton was busy running his law firm.
Although Chief Wilton is proud of his achievements as a TRC commissioner and his team’s work has been endorsed by many nations globally, he feels a bit betrayed given the fact that Canada, United States of America, Australia, as well as, New Zealand aren’t fully on board with the commission’s findings and recommendations.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away his achievements as an advocate for the rights of aboriginal people.
Chief Doctor Wilton Littlechild has received numerous awards. Some of the most notable include; a Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding service and contribution as a parliamentarian, The Order of Canada and the Canada 125 Medal. Just recently (in 2015), Doctor Wilton became an Indspire Awards Laureate and an Alberta Award of Excellence honorary.
Chief Doctor Littlechild spoke in Nipigon for the staff of Superior North Catholic District School Board.