Saskatoon

'He was a very caring man': Former Sask. MP, cabinet minister Bill McKnight dead at 79

Former Kindersley-Lloydminster MP and Sask. treaty commissioner Bill McKnight died on Friday. He was 79.

McKnight was known for his work with Indigenous communities

Bill McKnight, seen here in a 2009 file photo, was Saskatchewan's treaty commissioner between 2007 and 2012, and the member of Parliament for Kindersley-Lloydminster from 1979-1993. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Bill McKnight, a former federal cabinet minister, died on Friday at the age of 79.

McKnight was Saskatchewan's treaty commissioner between 2007 and 2012. He also served as an MP for the Kindersley-Lloydminster riding from 1979-1993 and was appointed to cabinet and served as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. 

There, he helped foster and create lifelong ties with Indigenous communities in Sask., and across the country.

Harry Lafond, former chief and current council member for Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, met McKnight in the late '80s.

Muskeg Lake made McKnight an honorary chief in 1988 and Lafond said he stayed in touch with the community throughout the rest of his life.

"He always cared about the community," Lafond said. "He was a very caring man."

His character was driven by his belief in people; he really believed in the goodness of people.- Harry Lafond, former chief and current council member for Muskeg Lake Cree Nation

The treaty commissioner is meant to act as a mediator between federal and First Nations governments dealing with treaty issues. Lafond said McKnight made a difference in that role. 

At the time, the word "reconciliation" was not widely in use but Lafond said McKnight approached his work in that spirit.

"How he conducted business, the way he approached people, the openness he had to new ideas and thinking out of the box — it was definitely an example of somebody who understood reconciliation and specifically economic reconciliation."

A September 2018 photo taken at the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Asimakaniseekan Askiy land. Honourary Chief kihiw mîkwan — Bill McKnight — is seen front row right. Also pictured, back row left to right: Saskatoon Tribal Chief Mark Arcand, Chief Wallace Tawpisim, Mayor Charlie Clark, Chief Harry Lafond, Chief George E. Lafond, Chief Cliff Tawpisin. Front row left to right: Chief Kelly Wolfe, Chief Leonard Ledoux, and McKnight. (Submitted by Muskeg Lake Cree Nation)

McKnight was involved in the early negotiations to establish the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation's urban reserve and a commercial centre there now bears his name.

Lafond said McKnight gained the trust of Indigenous people through his "willingness to connect and build relationships with Indigenous leaders."

"His character was driven by his belief in people; he really believed in the goodness of people."

In addition to his work as Minister of Indian Affairs, he was the Minister of Defence during the first Gulf War and was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2015.