SHELLBROOK, Sask. — David Ahenakew, a former Saskatchewan aboriginal leader who was stripped of the Order of Canada for calling Jews a “disease”, has died in hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 76.
Lawrence Joseph, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said Ahenakew was surrounded by family when he died Friday at a hospital in Shellbrook, about 150 km north of Saskatoon.
“It’s a sad day for all of us,” Joseph said. He did not want to comment further.
Last year, Ahenakew was acquitted of a hate crime charge over remarks he made about Jews to a reporter in 2002. He was found guilty at his first trial on the charge and fined $1,000, but the conviction was overturned on appeal in 2006 and a new trial was ordered.
Judge Wilfred Tucker chastised Ahenakew for his comments, which included blaming Jews for starting the Second World War. Tucker called the words “revolting, disgusting and untrue,” but ruled Ahenakew didn’t intend to promote hate when he uttered them.
Ahenakew was 35 when he became the youngest man ever elected as chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations in 1968. He served a record 10 years in that job and was seen as part of a new generation of well educated, energetic young aboriginal politicians.
A father of five from the Sandy Lake reserve in northern Saskatchewan, Ahenakew was the first elected president of the Assembly of First Nations in 1982.