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Contemporary Life – Profiles: J. Wilton Littlechild

Our ancestors in some areas have secured our traditional ways and food systems in Treaties. These international agreements were signed for “so long as the grass grows, the rivers flow and the sun shines”. For sharing our lands, we were to maintain our “vocations of hunting, fishing, trapping” and gathering through certain tracts. We were to be able to do these for food at all seasons of the year. In others, we were to be assisted by Treaty “to be engaged in cultivating the soil” as a right to development. There are other principles in international covenants which state that “Peoples” may not be denied “their own means of subsistence”.1

J. Wilton Littlechild Lawyer, athlete, and international advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world, Wilton Littlechild is writing a proud chapter in the history of the Cree Nation. Jacob Wilton Littlechild was born on the Ermineskin Cree Reserve near Hobbema, Alberta. His elementary and secondary school at Ermineskin School and St. Anthony’s College. Following this, he pursued post-secondary education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. A gifted athlete, Littlechild earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1967 and a Master’s degree in 1975, both in Physical Education. He made his mark in the University sports scene in the 1960s as a member of the University of Alberta’s hockey and diving teams and as general manager of the University of Alberta Football Club. His accomplishments in sport and health earned Littlechild the Alberta Award for excellence in Athletics and induction into the University of Alberta Hall of Fame.

A passionate advocate for Aboriginal involvement in sport, Littlechild began organizing an international sporting event for the Indigenous Peoples of North America, and in 1990 the first North American Indigenous Games was held in Edmonton, with subsequent games taking place in 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2002.

Littlechild did not limit himself to the world of sport and wellness. He also pursued his interest in law, and earned a Law Degree from the University of Alberta in 1976, the first Treaty Indian from Alberta to do so. Littlechild went on to pursue a career in law and politics both on a national and international level. In 1988, he was elected as the Member of Parliament for the Wetaskiwin constituency in Alberta, a post he occupied until 1993. Littlechild was the first Treaty Indian in Canada to be elected to Parliament. During his time in public office, Littlechild was a member of several special committees including: the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and the Special Joint Committee on Constitution. Most notably, Littlechild was a member of the legal team sent to the British High Courts in London, England in 1980 and 1981 as part of a lawsuit to block patriation of the Canadian Constitution until Aboriginal and Treaty rights were protected and included in the Constitution.

Internationally, Littlechild has represented Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world at such institutions as the United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Littlechild was key in securing a voting seat for Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples at the ILO, and was a founder of the International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development and a founding member of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace. He is an outspoken advocate of the rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world, and has addressed many issues in international arenas, including legal and treaty rights and resource and subsistence issues.

Littlechild continues his ongoing work to improve the lives of Aboriginal people in Canada and Indigenous people internationally. He has emerged as a passionate voice for Aboriginal rights, taking his own experience as a member of a Treaty 6 First Nation and applying it to a larger discourse on the legal rights of those people whose lives and destinies have been shaped by colonial practices around the world.

1 Littlechild, J. Wilton, Address to Indigenous People’s Caucus from 13 – 17 November 1996 World Food Summit, Rome, Italy

Burnham, Philip. “UN Special Report: Inside the Medicine Chest.” Indian Country Today. June 26, 2003. www.indiancountry.com (accessed July 2006).

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. J. Wilton Littlechild. www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/dec/jchild_e.html (accessed July 2006).

Littlechild, J. Wilton. “Address to Indigenous People’s Caucus from 13 – 17 November 1996 World Food Summit, Rome, Italy.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. www.fao.org (accessed July 2006).

Littlechild, J. Wilton. “Speech from 4 October 2005.” Advancing the Human Rights of Indigenous People: A Critical Challenge for the International Community. Rights and Democracy (International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development). www.dd-rd.ca/site (accessed July 2006).

Littlechild, J. Wilton. “Presentation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 13 May, 2002.” Dialogue Between Nations. www.dialoguebetweennations.com (accessed July 2006).

North American Indigenous Games. “NAIG History “ Team Saskatchewan - North American Indigenous Games. www.teamsask.fsin.com/naighistory.html (accessed July 2006).

Tribal Chiefs Institute and Indian and Northern Affairs. In Their Footsteps: Contributions of First Nations People in Alberta. Edmonton: Duval House Publishing, 2001.

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “Mr. Wilton Littlechild.” UNPFII http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/member_littlechild.html (accessed July 2006).

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