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Phil Fontaine helps orchestrate the death of Meech Lake Accord

The Story

The image of Elijah Harper holding an eagle feather has come to symbolize the death of the Meech Lake Accord. On June 12, 1990, Manitoba's only Native MLA blocks debate on the constitutional agreement, which contributes to its demise. Phil Fontaine was the mastermind behind the famous protest. It was Fontaine's idea to have Harper block Meech in the Manitoba legislature. Fontaine tells the CBC's Anne Medina that he doesn't have a problem with Quebec's "distinct society" status under the accord. But he, like many Native people, was upset that Meech Lake was based on Canada being a country of two founding nations, English and French. "The accord is fundamentally flawed... it doesn't recognize our people for who we are. It's an injustice," says Fontaine. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: June 19, 1990
Guest: Phil Fontaine
Host: Ann Medina
Duration: 10:26

Did You know?

• Phil Fontaine told Maclean's magazine that while he didn't oppose special status for Quebec, he was upset that Native self-government was not recognized. "Our particular concern," Fontaine said, "was with the further imposition of the Big Lie that Canada was made up of two founding nations, two official languages."

• Attempts to entrench the principle of Native self-government in the Meech Lake Accord ended in failure because some premiers thought the concept was too vague and undefined. The final agreement relegated the issue to a "second round" of talks, which was promptly rejected by native leaders.

• "Elijah Harper represents the collective will of the Indian peoples of Manitoba and Canada, and their pain and disappointment over the dishonourable treatment they have received from this nation." -- Phil Fontaine in Maclean's, July 2, 1990

• The Meech Lake Accord, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's attempt to bring Quebec into the 1982 Constitution, ended in failure. In order to be made law, all 10 provinces had until July 23, 1990, to accept the accord which would have recognized Quebec as a "distinct society." In the end Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to ratify the accord.

• Ovide Mercredi, the Manitoba chief who was Fontaine's main rival in the 1991 Assembly of First Nations leadership race, also helped Elijah Harper orchestrate the protest that killed Meech Lake.


Phil Fontaine: Native Diplomat and Dealmaker more