Manitoba cabinet minister Lathlin dies

Former Cree chief Oscar Lathlin, Manitoba's minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, died in hospital early Sunday.

Former Cree chief Oscar Lathlin, Manitoba's minister of aboriginal and northern affairs, died in hospital early Sunday.

Lathlin, 61, was at his home in The Pas when he became ill Saturday night and was taken to The Pas Health Complex, government spokesman Jonathan Hildebrand said.

The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but Hildebrand said Lathlin had "some health difficulties and challenges."

In a news release, Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl described Lathlin as "a true visionary" and a valued partner.

Manitoba Attorney General Dave Chomiak said, "Anything that had to do with First Nation education or northern education, Oscar was a champion of."

"It was his belief that education and economic development were absolutely pivotal to the North, and that's something he never gave up on."

Former Opaskwayak Cree chief

Lathlin was first elected in 1990 as NDP MLA for The Pas and was re-elected in every election since.

He was a former chief of Opaskwayak Cree Nation and worked for the federal government as well as with a number of aboriginal organizations.

Among Lathlin's proudest achievements was the University College of the North, which brought postsecondary learning to 12 far-flung communities.

He also helped establish the First Peoples Economic Growth Fund along with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, a $20-million pool of money aimed at helping aboriginal businesses start up or expand.

Throughout his career, and despite his health problems, Lathlin would return as often as possible to The Pas, driving seven hours on many weekends from Winnipeg over bumpy rural roads.

With files from the Canadian Press