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Senator John B. Tootoosis: Ambassador To First Nations

Archie King

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JUNE 1982      v12 n05 p31  
John Tootoosis--'The thing I wanted to do was help my people, the future of my children and what will be helpful for them in the future.'John Tootoosis, 82, has been a crusader for Indian rights since the turn of the century. At the age of 20 years he was attending band meetings with his father and acted as a spokesman for Indian people at conferences.

It was in the early years that he travelled by train to various Indian reserves. During one of his visits he was given a ride on a car hood pulled by a saddle horse.

Having just enough money for a one-way train ticket Tootoosis was given money by band members. By passing the hat around Tootoosis was able to visit the Indian reserves.

"The thing I wanted to do was help my people, the future of my children and what will be helpful for them in the future," said Tootoosis.

It was during the 1920's that Senator Tootoosis tried to organize the Indians of Saskatchewan. Indians required a permit to venture away from the reserve. Tootoosis often never had a permit. But he was always one step ahead of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, whom the Indian Affairs department had sent to bring him back to the reserve.

Tootoosis saw his dream of a united Indian group come true in 1958 when the various Indian groups in Saskatchewan met in Fort Qu'Appelle and formed the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.

After heading the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians for a number of years Tootoosis was replaced in leadership. He later was appointed a senator in the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians. Because of his record in Indian leadership, Tootoosis was also appointed Ambassador to the World Council of Indigenous People.

During an interview Tootoosis said that the World Council of Indigenous Peoples was the brainchild of George Manuel, former leader of National Indian Brotherhood. Manuel saw the need of aborigines to unite as one common voice. And that's another dream that's coming true.

It was while attending meetings of indigenous people in Sweden and in South America that Tootoosis received a clear message, "early history has told us that the strong nation upon reaching other nations overtook the inhabitants and ruled over them 'by the sword'," Tootoosis said.

Attending the World Congress of Indigenous Peoples held at Australia in 1981, he saw the benefits and what other indigenous people can learn from one another.

Following his appointment as Ambassador, Tootoosis has travelled to Australia, Alaska, and attended the American Indian Congress conference held in United States. Most recently he has been travelling, spreading the word on the World Assembly of First Nations to be held in Regina this year, from July 20 to 25th. He will be one of the many speakers to address the assembly. He will also be assisting with the Elders conference that will be taking place then.

"I think the people are going to get great benefit from it, the aborigines, for we in Canada are going to find out what happened to these people 100 years ago, when the big nations took over their countries, how they have been treated and how they are now."

Editor's Note: The biography of Senator John Tootoosis, which is also a history of the Indian political movement in Saskatchewan, will be available in July, 1982. Publishers: Golden Dog Press, Kempville, Ontario.