Nearly 1,000 mourners packed the Musqueam Community Centre in south Vancouver to honour influential leader and "tough, tough negotiator," former chief Ernie Campbell.

Campbell, a powerful voice for B.C. First Nations and tireless advocate for the Musqueam First Nation, died Saturday at the age of 72.

He's best known for taking on the provincial government repeatedly throughout the years, negotiating a key land and cash agreement, which included the UBC golf course, worth up to $250 million in 2007, and blocking development on the historic Marpole Midden — a 3,000-year-old Musqueam village and burial site — in 2012.


Former Musqueam Chief Ernie Campbell at a press conference in 2007. (Chuck Stoody/ Canadian Press)

And in 2003, when the federal government shut down an aboriginal-only pilot fishery after a B.C. provincial court ruled it was unconstitutional, Campbell announced publicly that the Musqueam would ignore the ruling.

"When a salmon passes through our territory, our rivers, when we catch it, that's ours," he said at the time.

"He could sit and talk with premiers and prime ministers and anyone and not feel that he was in any way in an inferior place, but never an arrogant position at all," said Musqueam Indian Band Counc. Wendy John. 

"He was a tough, tough negotiator," says John. "He didn't suffer fools."

A family man

Today's emotional remembrance focused largely on Campbell's life as a father, championship boxer and beloved community member.

"My dad had always said that if he died tomorrow, he had no regrets, because he lived one hell of a life. And that we know is very true," said Ronda Campbell-Sparrow, Ernie's daughter.

Grand Chief Ed John called Campbell a "warrior chief" during his devotion, finishing by saying, "We miss you, old chief, and we wish that you were here."

Memorabilia of Campbell's life was on display, including his beloved war canoe, and the Coast Salish blanket he wore during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. 

Schwarzenegger Canada 20070531 TOPIX

Former Musqueam chief Ernie Campbell, at far right, watches a dance performance with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Leah George and former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell in 2007. The blanket Schwarzenegger is wearing was a gift from the Musqueam chief. (Chuck Stoody/ Canadian Press )

Under Campbell's leadership, the Musqueam were one of the four host First Nations for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. 

Campbell got to know every child in the community, says Musqueam Indian Band Counc. Wendy John, through his work as a soccer and canoe coach.

"He was involved at absolutely every level in the growth of the Musqueam people," says John.

"I used to see him stop and talk to absolutely everyone that was part of our community. He gave time to everyone, no matter who they were."

Watch: Ernie Campbell on Musqueam history


With files from the CBC's Dan Burritt