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Steve Pooyak
Steve Pooyak, father of two and a member of the Sweetgrass First Nation, located Northwest of North Battleford, is a former leader of the Sweetgrass First Nation and in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Throughout his lifetime he stressed the importance of self-government, self-sufficiency, protection of treaty rights and advocacy for First Nation people. He was first elected Chief of Sweetgrass in 1971. Mr. Pooyak remained Chief until 1978 at which time he was nominated and elected for the position of Second Vice-Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians (now known as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations). He remained there until 1983. In later years Mr. Pooyak was also involved in consultation with

Steven Pooyak
STEVE POOYAK
(1942 - 1999)

Sweetgrass First Nation on areas such as Band Custom Election and the ratification of Treaty Land Entitlement vote (T.L.E.).

While Chief, Mr. Pooyak served on the Board of Director's responsible for the development and initiation of the Battleford's Indian Health Center which was designed to provide better services to the First Nation communities, acted as chairman for Sweetgrass band meetings, and was an active member of the Liberal Party (his most significant memory was having lunch with Prime Minister Trudeau). Later in his career, Mr. Pooyak also served as Executive Director for the Battleford's Friendship Center. It was at this time that Mr. Pooyak was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis; a debilitating disease causing him to be incapacitated and unable to work. Through this experience he realized the limited resources and information available to disabled persons, particularly First Nation people. After talking to others and countless phone inquiries he discovered there was a federal task force in place discussing issues pertinent to disabled people. Eventually this task force resulted in fifteen recommendations regarding disabled people. Only one of these recommendations directly affected First Nation people as it identified a need for an Aboriginal Reference Group on Disability issues. This Reference group put forward a proposal for an Aboriginal Clearing House which would inform Steven Pooyakthe Federal Government of issues regarding disabilities and on services involving disabilities. Mr. Pooyak became involved with the Reference group and acted as one of the two contact persons for Saskatchewan between the reference group and the task force. He later became the coordinator for the Aboriginal Clearing House which is where he worked until he was physically unable to.

An illustration of his ideas on self-government can be found in this story he told us of how when he was a Chief that they needed a permit to sell their grain off-reserve and how he did not acknowledge these permits, selling grain anyway. It turned out that the permits could not be enforced by Indian Affairs. As far back as we can remenmber our dad talked extensively about Self-Government, sharing his ideas and later actively engaging in debates with both of us; our discussions centered around the importance of advocating for First Nations people. Politics was one of our dad's greatest passions and he passed on this passion to both of his daughters. Considering he never graduated from High School (although he completed his G.E.D. in his forties), he was one of the smartest men we knew and learned more about the world and First Nation politics than any text book could have ever taught us, because he lived it.

On a personal note, there is a side to my dad that we, his daughters, miss each day. Perhaps what we miss most is his unconditional love that he seemingly perfected in his later years. Both of us were extremely proud of his ability to initiate change within himself, striving to become a better human being. I have heard it said that it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, not in his case. It did not matter what we did, he was always there to listen, offer words of encouragement, laugh (lots) and enjoy life to the fullest.

Some of his lines to live by include: "where there's a will, there's a way"; "don't live in the past, start from today"; "the Creator is a loving and forgiving Creator." He stressed the importance of family, sticking together and working things out. He thoroughly enjoyed having young people in his life and helped out when there was a need, which was often in the form of opening his door to provide a safe home, a place to rest, or regroup. We, his daughters, often referred to his home as a hostel because he always provided some young person a home whenever they needed it.

As for us, his daughters, our confidence and successes that have helped us to reach our goals is greatly attributed to the unconditional love we received from our dad. He was a wonderful human being who continuously worked to become his best, with a courageous "go get 'em'" attitude. In August of 1999, Steve journeyed back home to be with his Creator. He is sadly missed.

Links: (click on X in top right corner of outside link to return to photo gallery)

Indian-Controlled Health Centre Opens

1980 Fall Chiefs' Conference...Strong Executive at the Helm

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