Métis leader Clem Paul passed away on July 30 at the age of 64.
Kathy Paul, his sister, described him as a “Métis icon”.
For the last three years of his life, however, he had been ill.
“One thing after another. He had bladder cancer, he beat it, ”said Kathy, adding that he also had diabetes.
But then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before his death.
“It was a mass that grew on a tube going from the pancreas to the liver. The sledgehammer was squeezing this tube, so he couldn’t process anything. He couldn’t eat anything. He ate and came back. He ended up starving, ”his sister said.
The Pauls come from a large Métis family of 12 siblings. Clem was born in the former hospital in Yellowknife, where the RCMP detachment is now located. In 1958, the family moved to School Draw Avenue, where a Métis community was established.
Clem and his siblings attended a Catholic school. It was there that Clem met his best friend, Trevor Teed.
Many years later, on November 11, 1990, Clem saved Teed’s life. After Teed fell into the icy water of Harding Lake, Paul was able to pull him out, but he couldn’t save Billy Balsillie, another close friend.
That night changed the lives of the surviving men. They both cut off the alcohol and, for Teed, the drugs too.
Clem received the Governor General’s Medal for Bravery for his heroic deeds.
“But he always believed he failed because he didn’t save Billy. Even though he saved my life, he felt he didn’t realize what he set out to do, ”Teed said.
Clem’s political adventure began in the 1980s when he went to federal court to ensure that the Métis were still recognized as Métis in the context of the Tlicho land claim.
“They wanted to commit genocide against us and make us Tlicho without our consent,” said Kathy. “It was a sad, sad situation, but Clem was a visionary and he had a plan for the North Slave, the Métis of Mountain Island – unique people who were Métis who signed a treaty in 1921.”
During his 40 years in politics, Clem’s political dream was to have a distinct group for the Métis. He was president of three Métis organizations: Metis Local 55, which became the Yellowknife Metis Council, and he was also president of the North Slave Metis Alliance.
Teed said that Clem’s biggest political influence was her mother, who was “a very strong-willed independent woman who had very strong core values for family and friends.”
Teed recalls that Clem’s mother, Theresa Paul, was the first Indigenous person he knew to stand up against the government and said no when they tried to move her from her home on School Draw Avenue. She eventually managed to get title to the land where she lived, he said.
“I think his influence is still visible today,” Teed said.
He added that the past 10 years were the happiest he has seen Clem in the past three decades because he met Leone Paul, who became his wife.
Family meant so much to Clem, according to Kathy. He had three children and 11 grandchildren. She called them the highlight of her life.
After a hospital stay, he returned home for two days and died surrounded by his loved ones. Before he passed away, he told Kathy’s husband to just listen to the children running, laughing and playing.
She remembered telling him, “Isn’t that wonderful? That’s all he wanted in life, “just to hear the family chatter,” she said.