David Ahenakew leaves court in Saskatoon, Sask., on July 8, 2005. ((Troy Fleece/Canadian Press))

David Ahenakew, the controversial Saskatchewan First Nations figure whose comments on Jews were the subject of several court cases, has died at the age of 76, reportedly from cancer.  

Ahenakew, who died Friday in Shellbrook, Sask., was a leading figure in aboriginal politics for decades and held top positions in First Nations organizations in Saskatchewan and at the national level.  

"I'll remember him as a strong leader and a family man and a man who stood for his principles," Doug Cuthand, an author and filmmaker who worked with Ahenakew in the 1970s, told CBC News. "I was always impressed with how he stood up for treaty rights."  

Ahenakew's role as a respected elder came crashing down in 2002. 

During a Saskatoon speech at a gathering of First Nations leaders meeting to discuss aboriginal health care, Ahenakew launched into a barely comprehensible diatribe and made a number of anti-Semitic remarks. He accused Jews of starting the Second World War.  


In December 2002, David Ahenakew's controversial remarks at a meeting of First Nations leaders in Saskatoon led to his being charged with promoting hatred against Jews. ((CBC))

He repeated those comments to a reporter and after the news was published, Ahenakew was charged with promoting hatred. He was also stripped of his Order of Canada and became a focal point for debates about racism and freedom of speech.  

The court proceedings were protracted, but an initial conviction was overturned and, after a second trial, Ahenakew was acquitted of the charges.  

Ahenakew was born and raised on the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, a reserve north of Prince Albert, Sask.

From 1951 to 1967 he served in the Canadian Forces, including a stint in Korea.  

When he left the military, Ahenakew became involved in First Nations politics and in 1968 he was elected to head the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.


David Ahenakew played major roles in First Nations politics at the provincial and national levels. ((CBC))

From there, he gained national prominence for his opposition to the 1969 federal white paper that called for the assimilation of Indian and M├ętis people. He was subsequently elected to head the National Indian Brotherhood, the forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations.

With files from The Canadian Press