Crowds gathered at First Nations University of Canada in Regina today to celebrate the life of Noel Starblanket, the long-time chief, elder and traditional knowledge-keeper who passed away earlier this week at age 72.
A traditional honour song was sung as pallbearers led Starblanket into the university, followed by close friends and family.
Starblanket was a guiding influence in education, culture and prided himself on reconciliation by helping to foster relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Regina and Saskatchewan.
Friends, colleagues, community members and representatives from all levels of governments were all in attendance to pay their respects to Starblanket.
"He was an amazing man and portrayed a very noble man" said Michael Starr, chief of Star Blanket Cree Nation.
"He found his true calling, what he believed was his true calling, in his ceremonial ability. Finding and working within our community, with elders, not only our community but also other communities."
Starblanket spent the majority of his life pushing for equality for Indigenous people in the province and within Canada.
As leader, he first represented his home community of Star Blanket, then went on to become a vice-chief with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.
He served two terms as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, formerly known as the National Indian Brotherhood,
On Thursday, speakers used words like "remarkable", "passion" and "lasting impression" while talking about him.
The crowd heard that his presence was known at all levels of government in Canada throughout his life and within academia.
"He was a teacher and guide in many respects of his life. He helped us trying to understand how he could bring more of a traditional practice, traditional ceremony into what we do here," said FNUniv vice president Bob Kayseas
"We provide an education that's really about teaching people how to be a social worker, how to be a business person also with the context of this traditional knowledge. He helped us balance those two and integrate those two."
Starblanket, a residential school survivor, had a long history with the National Film Board and was involved in such films such as You Are On Indian Land (1969), Starblanket (1973), and most recently in a short documentary called From Up North where he reflected on his time at the Lebret Indian Residential school.
A montage of photos were played during the celebration of life, and within each frame a smiling Starblanket could be seen alongside family, friends, colleagues and grandchildren.
"We are forever grateful for the lessons and examples he imparted to us and we will continue his work" said Chief Starr
After the celebration of life a police escorted the procession to Lebret, Sask., where a traditional funeral and service was to be held at the White Buffalo Calf Gymnasium.