Indigenous·Point of View

Indigenous advocate Larry Morrissette inspired change in my generation

CBC's Lenard Monkman reflects on the impact Larry Morrissette had on his personal life. Morrissette was an Indigenous advocate, writer and co-founder of the Bear Clan Patrol who died at age 59 on Sept. 19.

Lenard Monkman reflects on impact Winnipeg educator, author and Bear Clan co-founder had on community

Larry Morrissette was instrumental in creating one of the first public Indigenous high schools in Canada, Children of the Earth High School in Winnipeg. (Stephanie Daniels)

Larry Morrissette taught me Winnipeg's North End wasn't simply the result of individuals making bad choices but rather a byproduct of colonialism, and that we need to reclaim our neighbourhood.

I do quite a bit of public speaking. Whenever I'm telling my personal story, I always talk about how the book Indians Wear Red was the one thing that started me on the path to helping my community. The book made me look at what I had seen growing up differently.

In the last chapter of the book, the authors write about what needs to be done to curb Indigenous communities' "street gang problem." People who have gone through and lived those experiences need to reclaim their identity, culture, and bring forth new ideas to change their communities.

It was enough for me to come up with the idea to give basketballs away in the 'hood.

Larry Morrissette was a co-author of Indians Wear Red.  An intelligent man who dedicated his life to helping his people. A vocal advocate for the Indigenous community who wasn't afraid to speak his mind and go against the grain. A pipe carrier. A sundancer. An educator and an author.

Like me, he was raised in the North End — one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada — and he dedicated a large portion of his life's work to helping Indigenous men who have been affected by the corrections system.

Every single time I met Larry Morrissette, it was with mutual respect. He knew what the 'hood life was like, and the work he did tried to change it.

I found out just last year that he was instrumental in creating Children of the Earth High School, a North End school that works to reflect Indigenous culture and values and that was considered revolutionary when it opened in 1991.

Children of the Earth was the only high school I ever attended. The school has had a long-lasting impact on me, instilling confidence and pride in being an Indigenous person.

What Indigenous youth often lack is the ability to enter any room in this country with pride. We would live in a much different country if Indigenous youth were able to walk with their heads held high, proud of who they are.

When I reflect on my own high school experience, Morrissette played a critical part in that education.

I was valedictorian of my class and just this past June, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for Children of the Earth's 25th anniversary. Right before I went up to speak, Larry was honoured for his work on making the school a reality.

We ended up sitting beside each other for the ceremony. While we were talking, he mentioned how proud he was of my generation. He spoke of seeing young, educated Indigenous people being able to carry the torch for the type of work that he built his life around.

Just last year, he was one of the only vocal Indigenous voices that spoke out about the Gonzaga school in Point Douglas. It shows that the more we progress, the more we need our own people to be critical when the time is right.

I only knew Larry for a couple years, but I know that his legacy is something that will continue with the next generation.

His passing has left a gap in the Indigenous community that is sure to be felt for a long time.

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