British Columbia

Indigenous rights activist, award winning author Neil Sterritt dead at 79

Neil Sterritt, Indigenous rights activist and author, died from cancer on April 9 — his 79th birthday. 

Sterritt was best known for his contributions to Delgamuukw, giving land titles to some B.C. First Nations

Neil Sterritt was given the Order of British Columbia in 2017 for his contributions to the province and Indigenous rights. (Province of British Columbia)

Neil Sterritt, Indigenous rights activist and author, died from cancer on April 9, his 79th birthday. 

Sterritt was born and raised in Gitxsan territory, in Hazelton, B.C., in 1941.

Forty years later, he became president of the Gitxsan-Wet'suwet'en Tribal Council. During that period, from 1981 to 1987, he played a key role in the landmark court case Delgamuukw v. B.C., an Indigenous land title case that gave the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en title over 58,000 square kilometres of land in B.C.

He wrote several books over the course of his life, including his latest, Mapping My Way Home: A Gitxsan History, an account of the Skeena and Bulkley Valleys and the relationship between Indigenous communities and newcomers to the area. 

"Working with Neil to publish Mapping My Way Home was one of our great pleasures," wrote publisher Creekstone Press on Facebook. "He knew so much, cared so much and was so generous with both his knowledge and compassion, he will be greatly missed."

When the book was published in 2016, Sterritt spoke to Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North, about how it came to be.

Award-winning author, Order of B.C. recipient and former leader of the Gitxsan-Wet'suwet'en Tribal Council Neil Sterritt has died at age 79. Sterritt played a key role in the landmark Delgamuukw case, working with elders to map traditonal Gitxsan territory. He spoke with Carolina de Ryk about the role maps have had in his own life int his interview from April 2016. 6:22

"Maps have been really a large part of my life," he said. "I've always been interested in the Gitxsan territories and I was in the minerals exploration business which is all about mapping."

He said he wanted to use his knowledge of mapping to map out his personal history. 

"I'm part Gitxsan and I'm part of something else, and I went from there. It's like a river flowing along it. I began to put it together and the whole idea began to take shape."

Sterritt was awarded the Roderick Haig-Brown award in 2017 for Mapping My Way Home

In 2008, Sterritt received an honourary doctorate from the University of Toronto to recognize his contributions to the understanding and expressions of Aboriginal citizenship in Canada. He also received an honourary doctorate of laws from the University of Victoria. 

In 2017, he was presented with the Order of British Columbia for his contributions to the province, and to Indigenous rights. 

With files from Daybreak North