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In Memoriam

Leonard Flett

Indspire Laureate, Business and Commerce (2002)

September 22, 2020 – Here at Indspire, we’re very sad to learn of the passing of Leonard Flett, former Chair of the Indspire Board of Directors (2004 – 2010) and Board Member (1992 – 2018). Len was a visionary leader and champion of Indigenous education throughout his life and was instrumental in helping to guide our organization.

A Cree status member of the Big Trout Lake Ontario First Nation, Flett had a long and influential tenure with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, retiring as Vice President in 2005 after a 42-year career. He believed that economic development was the key to Indigenous self-government and exemplified that in his work: developing initiatives to increase Indigenous participation in business, creating 40 partnership alliances with various Indigenous entities. All of this work empowered Indigenous Peoples and ensured that communities could begin charting their own economic futures.

Flett received the Order of Canada and the Order of Manitoba as well as the 2002 Indspire Award for Business and Commerce – and his book, From the Barren Lands, is the story of the fur trade through First Nations eyes: his father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s, and his own.

If you wish to honour Leonard’s memory, the family has asked that donations be made to Indspire in his name. To make a donation, click here:

To learn more about Leonard Flett’s life and achievements, check out

Ronald Edward Sparrow

Indspire Laureate, Environment and Natural Resources (2011)

September 16, 2020 – In sadness, Indspire shares the news of another #IndspireLaureate’s passing: Ronald Edward “Bud” Sparrow passed away on September 14th, surrounded by his family, after a long struggle with cancer.

A member of the Musqueam community, Sparrow began his career as a commercial fisherman on BC’s Fraser River. Always conscious of Indigenous fishing rights and the regulatory framework that favoured commercial fishing, Sparrow engaged in a protest against this framework after being arrested in 1984 for having a net that was ostensibly too long. He persevered – and ultimately took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, where his success changed the lives of Indigenous Peoples.

The 1990 Sparrow Case is considered a precedent-setting judgement, with Indigenous fishing rights now taking priority over commercial and sport fishing. Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow said that Sparrow “left our people at Musqueam and Indigenous peoples across Canada with a tremendous legal legacy. We will always be grateful for his quiet determination in fighting for our rights.”

You can watch his recipient video for his 2011 Indspire Award for Environment and Natural Resources here:

Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell

Indspire Laureate, Lifetime (2000)

August 19, 2020 – Everyone here at Indspire is deeply saddened to share news of another remarkable #IndspireLaureate’s passing. Honoured Nisga’a leader Dr. Joseph Arthur Gosnell passed away at the age of 84 yesterday after a long struggle with cancer, surrounded by family. “Today we have lost a giant,” said Eva Clayton, president of the Nisga’a Nation. “Through his wisdom, dignity and determination, Dr. Joseph Gosnell helped lead the Nisga’a people out of the Indian Act and into self-government…He represented the Nisga’a Nation with great pride and respect.”

Gosnell was instrumental in negotiating the Nisga’a Treaty, a precedent-setting treaty which came into effect in 2000 and brought the Nisga’a Nation out of the Indian Act, giving them title to 2,019 square kms of land in BC’s Nass Valley and ensuring that they could run their own health services and schools. First Nations Summit member Cheryl Casimer said that Gosnell had “negotiated the first modern treaty of our time and achieved what is the truest form of reconciliation.”

A residential school survivor, Gosnell was also the recipient of four honorary Doctorate of Law degrees and was a member of the Order of British Columbia as well as a Companion to the Order of Canada. We join with his family, friends, and colleagues in remembering and honouring his kindness, wisdom, and compassion – and in celebrating his legacy, which serves as an inspiration to not only the Nisga’a Nation, but also to Indigenous Peoples everywhere.

Grand Chief Grand Chief Joe Tokwiro Norton, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke

Indspire Laureate, Public Service 2002

August 17, 2020 – We here at Indspire are very saddened to learn of the passing of Grand Chief Joe Tokwiro Norton, Grand Chief of the Mohawk Nation of Kahnawà:ke, following a fall in his home on Friday afternoon. Well-loved and respected within his community and beyond, he served 13 consecutive terms as Grand Chief after first being elected in 1982. He was instrumental in speaking up for Kahnawà:ke and promoting Indigenous interests for over 30 years, giving good guidance during the Oka Crisis and fostering economic growth and free trade between First Nations communities. He was also an #IndspireLaureate, receiving the 2002 Award for Public Service. Journalist Kenneth Deer described him as a “tower of strength” and praised his community-building: “He learned how we may not always agree but we have to find a way to get along and he always strived to do that,” said Deer. Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon also praised Norton’s legacy: “He did well for his community, he did well for the Mohawk nation, his legacy you can see in Kahnawà:ke — it’s thriving businesses and you can see the impact on elevating Kahnawà:ke in a better way. Joe Norton — his name is going to be in Kahnawà:ke’s history books for generations to come.”