Winnipeg writer, indigenous rights activist Don Marks dies

Don Marks was a frequent opinion writer for CBC Manitoba, former sportscaster for Global News, and the filmmaker and best-selling author of They Call Me Chief

Marks, 62, died due to complications related to liver disease, roommate says

Don Marks, who has written two books about aboriginal athletes and the challenges they face, died Saturday. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Winnipeg writer and indigenous rights advocate Don Marks has died.

Marks passed away Saturday morning at the Health Sciences Centre due to complications with liver disease.

Don believed in fighting for the rights of indigenous people.- Ken Macdonald

Ken Macdonald, Marks's friend and roommate of nine years, said the 62-year-old had been on-call waiting for a liver transplant at the time of his death.

Marks was a "huge Jets fan and huge Bomber fan," made forays into documentary filmmaking and wrote about issues facing Canada's indigenous community, Macdonald said. Much of his professional life sought to marry his passion for sports with a desire to tell the stories of struggle experienced by indigenous people in North America.

Marks worked as the editor of Grassroots News. Prior to that, he worked at Global News as a sportscaster and eventually developed a friendship with CKND-TV owner Izzy Asper.

Asper went on to fund Mark's documentary They Call Me Chief: Warriors on ice, which profiled indigenous hockey players in the NHL and the barriers they had to overcome to make it to the league, MacDonald said.

Marks later turned that television special into a book, which sold thousands of copies and took him around the country on book tours, Macdonald added.

"He took all the notes and hundreds of hours of tapes that he had and he wrote a book," Macdonald said. "He got a writer's grant from the province and They Call Me Chief went on to become a Canadian best-seller."

In the summer of 2014, Marks published another book in the same vein called Playing the White Man's Game, which looked at indigenous pro-athletes across North America.

He won a Gemini award in 1998 for the CBC documentary series Man Alive and took home an American Indian Film Festival Spirit Award for Indian Time, a CTV variety show. Marks was also given a Manitoba Human Rights Achievement Award in 1993.

The people at the hospital said that they'd never seen a guy go through as much as he went through.- Ken Macdonald

He grew up in the North End of Winnipeg. At a young age, Marks ran away from home and was eventually adopted by an indigenous family, Macdonald said.

"Don believed in fighting for the rights of indigenous people," Macdonald said. "A lot of people thought he was aboriginal but he wasn't."

Marks was also a war-resistor when Ronald Reagan was in office, going so far as to sue the former president at the time for the United States' role in several wars, Macdonald said. He ran for the Liberals once in the North End but failed to win the nomination, Macdonald added.

Health took a turn

The health issues that led up to his death started in the middle of 2014 and took a more serious downward turn in September of 2015, Macdonald said.

"He realized that his only way to live was to have a transplant," Macdonald said, adding Marks' health continued to decline into the winter.

On Dec. 1, Marks' liver failed. He remained hospitalized up to the day of his death.

"His spirits were that his doctors and his health-care people around him were the best in the world," Macdonald said, adding Marks was committed to holding on as long as possible.

"The people at the hospital said that they'd never seen a guy go through as much as he went through."

Marks had also become a frequent opinion columnist for CBC Manitoba over the last few years. Here's a short list of some of his stories: