Mi’kmaq elder and spiritual leader Noel Knockwood has died

Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post
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Noel Knockwood. File

Noel Knockwood of Hilden was 81. He passed away in the early hours Friday morning with family members present after being hospitalized on Monday following a massive stroke.

"Noel Knockwood was a pillar of his community who touched the lives of many Nova Scotians with his wisdom, compassion and commitment to building a society that practices inclusion and respect of Mi'kmaq heritage and culture," Premier Stephen McNeil said, in a news release.

"He made history in so many ways by quietly and passionately sharing his deep belief in Mi'kmaq spirituality and serving his country with distinction in a time of war.

Born in 1932 on the Shubenacadie (Indian Brook) First Nation, Knockwood was a keptin of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council and served as the first aboriginal sergeant at arms for the Nova Scotia legislature from 2000-05.

"On behalf of all Nova Scotians, I want to express sympathy to his family at this difficult time. They are in my thoughts and prayers," McNeil said.

"Noel Knockwood was not just a leader in the Mi'kmaq community, he was also able to share his knowledge of Mi'kmaq heritage and culture with many Nova Scotians as a teacher and spiritual leader," he said.

Knockwood also successfully lobbied the government to change the Solemnization of Marriage Act so that traditional Mi'kmaq marriages could become legal under Nova Scotia law.

"We can now stand parallel with the Muslims, Christians, and other religions throughout the world,” he said, at the time.

In March of the same year, Knockwood was awarded an Aboriginal Achievement Award for his work in restoring Native Spirituality in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Known for his deep native and spiritual beliefs (he served as a spiritual leader since 1974), Knockwood was a regular speaker at various religious ceremonies throughout the area and also served as a captain and spiritual leader for the Mi'kmaq Grand Council.

He often spoke about the native belief in one God, the Great Spirit, who is present in all living things, and how the lives of aboriginal peoples were changed by the arrival of the Europeans, who brought missionaries, merchants and the military.

Knockwood was also a founder of the transitional year program for native and black students at Dalhousie University in Halifax as well as being credited with designing the Mi'kmaq Cultural History program at the post secondary institution, which now graduates native professionals every year.

In 1991, he received the Meritorious Award for Human Rights from the province for his many accomplishments up to that point.

A veteran of the Canadian military, Knockwood was also awarded the United Nations Medal, the Korean War Medal and the Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, as well as being honoured by the National Aboriginal Veterans Association.

He has also served as an addiction counselor and as special advisor for Corrections Canada.

Details on his memorial service are to follow.

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