Remembering Indigenous advocate Sandra Lockhart

Sandra Lockhart is remembered by friends as a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights, as a mother, elder, friend and mentor. Lockhart died this week.

'We meet, if we are lucky, a few extraordinary people in our lives'

Sandra Lockhart at a rally for missing and murdered aboriginal women in 2015. A celebration of life for Sandra was held in Yellowknife Thursday after she died this week. (CBC)

Family and friends of Indigenous rights advocate Sandra Lockhart are celebrating her activism, the contributions she made to her community and her frank public dialogue about her own experiences as an Indigenous person in Canada.

Lockhart was a mother, grandmother, elder, friend and mentor.

She was born into the Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan and is Cree Dakota. She married Felix Lockhart, former chief of Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation.

After friends and family confirmed Lockhart's death Wednesday, tributes spilled in.

Lockhart's friend Linda Todd remembered her as someone who "stood up for indigenous women's rights and women's rights in general."

Lockhart worked toward making reconciliation a reality "on a political and human level," Todd told the CBC.

"I will miss her! the North will miss her! Canada and the world will miss her! Her sphere of influence was huge and impactful. I love you Sandra Faye Lockhart. I will see you again and we will get some work done in the next place," wrote social advocate Arlene Hache on Facebook.

She wasn't afraid to challenge political leaders publicly. She wasn't afraid to challenge Dene men in positions of power and speak out against them.- Peyton Straker

Sitting in her garden Wednesday, Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Marie Wilson spoke about Lockhart and her life.

In the days before Lockhart's passing, Wilson visited with her. They first met roughly thirty years ago in a healing circle, where they quickly bonded, she said.

"We meet, if we are lucky, a few extraordinary people in our lives — people who are exemplary and people who are inspirational. And for me Sandra Lockhart was definitely one of those people and I count her as one of the great blessings in my life," she said.

"I don't claim in any way to have been Sandra's closest friend but she's a person who has been dear in my life for many decades now and I know that we have held special importance to each other and for each other," said Wilson.

Vocal and unafraid

Lockhart endured hardships, but was "candid" about them, including in her testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"She travelled a long way in her journey and transformed her life and the lives of those around her through her hard work and her determination and her hopefulness that things could be better."

Lockhart was adopted in the 60s scoop and spent 11 years in the system. She was vocal about the abuse she endured, her struggles with wellness and the role of racism and colonialism in those struggles.

Lockhart, a prominent Yellowknife indigenous women’s advocate, is remembered for her life and advocacy. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"The truth is the truth, but I'm trying to be compassionate too … but I'm not going to sterilize stuff either. If we keep sharing our struggles and our recoveries, we have a better chance," Lockhart shared in 2015.

Lockhart was a political person and a feminist, said Peyton Straker, a member of Keeseekoose Saulteaux First Nation who met Lockhart through community connections in Yellowknife and Lutsel K'e. She looked up to Lockhart as an elder and community advocate.

"She was one of the first mentors I had around political engagement and political organizing in the North. She was always someone who included me in conversations that I wouldn't have otherwise been invited to," she said.

Lockhart supported young Indigenous organizers like Straker at watershed moments in the struggle for Indigenous rights in Canada and beyond — including organizing for Denendeh Against DAPL.

She held Straker's hand when the Gerald Stanley verdict came out, acquitting Stanley in the murder of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man.

"Sandra and I, both being from Saskatchewan, I think both experienced that in a similar way," said Straker.

Lockhart was vocal and unafraid, said Straker.

"She wasn't afraid to challenge political leaders publicly. She wasn't afraid to challenge Dene men in positions of power and speak out against them. That was the way I knew her. I mean, maybe she was afraid, but she didn't demonstrate that publicly. I always saw her as someone who would speak her truth," she said.

Lockhart will not be forgotten by those who knew her, said Straker.

A celebration of life for Lockhart was held in Yellowknife Thursday. She was returned home to Saskatchewan on Friday.