Sunday, May 25, 2008

I did not know this.

My excuse is I was only 13 at the time and cared little for such things as politics and current events. What were they in comparison to the mall, hairspray and multi-coloured slouch socks? Anyways, I find that I admire the man - takes guts to be the only one.

The man who changed Canadian history with one simple word

When Brian Mulroney’s federal government tried to integrate Quebecers into the Canadian constitution with five special modifications — including recognizing it as a distinct society, they had the public support of the nation.
But on June 3, 1990, the day Canada’s Premiers signed the Meech Lake accord, one Manitoban politician raised an eagle feather and uttered a single word: “No.” His simple but firm refusal to ratify the accord threw Canada in an unprecedented political crisis with potentially devastating consequences for the nation.
Over the next 20 days Elijah Harper, Manitoba’s Minister of Northern Affairs, fought nail and tooth against personal threats, a hounding press and stone cold politicians in order to protect the rights of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.
Most folk are probably aware of the failed Meech Lake accord and the subsequent demise of Canada’s conservative party, but few are aware that one of the key players was Elijah Harper: an indigenous man from Red Sucker Lake First Nation in Manitoba.
In a parliamentary romp of a movie that does anything but take itself seriously, that’s about to change. With its catchy music, zainy characters and unassuming narrative, Elijah puts your standard "father's documentary" to shame.
Elijah stars a whole slew of talented Canadian actors, including Billy Merasty (Moose TV), Glen Gould as Phil Fontaine and Gabrielle Miller (Corner Gas) as a political reporter.
For Merasty, landing the lead role of one of his heroes was a dream come true, albeit a little frightening. “It was very emotional to me, being a Cree individual who knew what was going on and why Elijah did what he did,” confesses Merasty. “It was quite the emotional experience. There was a lot at stake — our families, our folk and the whole notion of being Native was in question.”
Luckily, the 25-year theatre vet had a good basis for the role: while flying to do a play in 1990, he happened to land a seat on the plane right next to Elijah Harper, who was smack in the middle of this whole political debacle. The two discussed their similar heritages, Harper’s thoughts and feelings on the Accord, and they became fast friends. “We connected like kin,” Merasty remembers. “I really admire him. In fact as soon as I got the role I called him and he said, ‘Good. That’s good. At least you know the area. At least you know what’s going on.’”
Merasty’s honest approach to the role — his attempt to convey that Elijah did what he did not to be in the spotlight but for the greater good of his people, was so convincing that he brought writer and executive producer Blake Corbet to tears during his audition: a reenactment of the first legislative speech Harper ever gave.
“Elijah Harper is like a hero to me, he’s like my Gandhi, my Nelson Mandela,” Merasty explains. “He’s a crusader who stood up for the rights of his own people — so I revered him. He is someone very special to me and I wanted to honour him.”
And although Merasty was initially surprised to be asked to audition (“I look nothing like him!”) he manages to pull off a stellar performance. “I’ve received a good number of wonderful praise, but one of my favourite compliments comes from my hero,” the actor muses. “Elijah said to me, ‘good job.’ Very simple but it means so much.”
Coming from a man of so few words, it’s probably the highest compliment around.