Frank Calder

Frank Arthur Calder, 91, died in Victoria on November 4 at age 91. He was a life-long Anglican.

Born in Nass Harbour, BC, Calder at the age of seven was sent south to Coqualeetza residential school at Sardis, BC, operated by the Methodist Church (later the United Church).

After elementary school, he became the first First Nations youth to study at Chilliwack High School. In 1946 he was the first First Nations person to graduate from the Anglican Theological College at the University of British Columbia, the predecessor to the Vancouver School of Theology.

Three years later in 1949, the first year Status Indians were allowed to vote provincially (they had to wait another 21 years to vote federally) and Calder was elected to the BC Legislative Assembly. He became the first Status Indian to be elected to any Canadian parliament.

He won by six votes - even after 190 were rejected. Over the next 30 years he was re-elected seven times, losing only once, in 1956. For most of his career he represented BC's Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (which became the New Democratic Party).

In 1955 Calder founded the Nisga'a Tribal Council and became its president for 20 years. In 1972 he was appointed a cabinet member in Dave Barrett's government and became BC's first aboriginal cabinet minister. Amid controversy, he lost the cabinet post a year later, and in 1975, crossed the floor to join the Social Credit Party, and beat the NDP candidate in that year's election. In 1979, he lost his seat to the NDP candidate by a single vote (it is said this was because he hadn't taken the trouble to return to his Nass Valley constituency and vote for himself.)

Calder's name is on the court case entitled "Calder vs. Attorney General of British Columbia" which led to the Supreme Court decision declaring that Aboriginal title exists in modern Canadian law. It was key to the province's the treaty between the province, federal government, and Calder's Nisga'a in 2000.

Calder was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1988 and a Member of the Order of British Columbia in 2004. Memorial services were held Nov. 16 at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, with Bishop James Cowen in attendance, and on Nov. 19 at the Greenville Community Centre in the Nass Valley, near Calder's birthplace at Nass Harbour Cannery.