Anishinaabe Elder Elmer Courchene, chair of AFN Elders Council, mourned by leaders

First Nations leaders from across the country mourn the loss of respected Anishinaabe elder, Elmer Courchene.

Courchene, from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, provided advice and guidance to 3 AFN national chiefs

Elder Elmer Courchene is being remembered for his advice and guidance to First Nations leaders. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

First Nations leaders paid tribute Wednesday to Anishinaabe Elder Elmer Courchene, who died earlier that day.

Courchene, 83, was chair and a member of the Assembly of First Nations Elders Council. He is being remembered as a spiritual leader, and a voice for Indigenous Peoples and the environment.

"Whenever we lose someone of that nature, one that is a strong advocate for the children, I think that's a big loss for all of us," said his nephew Dave Courchene Jr.

"Every time I heard him speak, he would remind the people of the duties and responsibilities that we all had with our children," he said.

Elmer Courchene was from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba but started his family in Pic River First Nation and made that community his home for several years.

Courchene was predeceased by his wife and a son, and it was his wish that he be taken back to Pic River First Nation to be buried beside his son.

He is survived by a son and seven granddaughters.

Elmer Courchene smudges Liberal Leader Paul Martin prior to his being sworn in as Canada's 21th prime minister in 2003. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Over the years, Courchene was involved in First Nations political circles acting as a spiritual advisor and mentor to many leaders.

He came from a family involved in First Nations politics; his father and grandfather were both chiefs of Sagkeeng First Nation. His brother, Dave Courchene Sr, was one of the co-founders of the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations).

'​He always came through for me' 

According to Derek Nepinak, a former grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Courchene served as a spiritual guide, mentor and was relied on heavily for advice. Courchene worked with Nepinak during his tenure as grand chief.

"Whenever I had a difficult decision to make, I always leaned on Elmer's knowledge to give guidance and direction and he always came through for me," said Nepinak.

A statement released by the Assembly of First Nations on Wednesday said Courchene became the resident Elder at the Assembly of First Nations in 2005​ and had provided advice and guidance over the years to national chiefs Phil Fontaine, Shawn Atleo and Perry Bellegarde.

Elmer Courchene cuts off Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine's ponytail at a charity event in 2007. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

He also helped advise in the negotiations that led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde sent his condolences to the family and friends of Courchene.

"He always took time to share those teachings with young people, with political leaders, and people from all cultures because those teachings held insight and value for all of us," said Bellgarde in the statement.

"I always valued his words and guidance." 

The statement said that at the Special Chiefs Assembly underway in Ottawa, a chair and blanket are in place with the Elders as a reminder of Courchene's presence and spirit.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit for three years. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1