Chief Day Walker-Pelletier one of three Indigenous leaders on new set of stamps

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Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier was chief of Okanese First Nation for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2020. She is one of three Indigenous leaders featured on stamps to be released on June 21, 2022. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)
Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier was chief of Okanese First Nation for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2020. She is one of three Indigenous leaders featured on stamps to be released on June 21, 2022. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)

The face of Chief Marie-Anne Day Walker-Pelletier from Okanese First Nation will soon travel across Canada and the world via letters and packages.

On Wednesday Canada Post unveiled a stamp emblazoned with her image — the third and final stamp in a new set featuring Indigenous leaders.

The retired chief said she felt honoured, calling it a "very significant day."

However, Day Walker-Pelletier wasn't quite sure yet how to feel about her face being sent around the globe with the help of the new stamp, she said.

"I guess it's kind of Canada Post recognizing myself as a First Nations woman and leader, so I'll go with it," said Day Walker-Pelletier.

"Hopefully the stamp will inspire our young people, our children, our youth."

WATCH | New stamps honour Canada's Indigenous leaders: 

The former chief of Okanese First Nation had to wait two years to share the information that she would be on a stamp, she said. She recalled the moment Canada Post first informed her.

"'Are you kidding,' I said. 'I don't want anybody licking me," Day Walker-Pelletier said, recounting her phone call with Canada Post's officer of stamp services Leslie Jones.

"Then she said, 'Oh no,they use glue now.'"

She never puts herself first, says Saskatchewan's lieutenant-governor

Day Walker-Pelletier, Harry Daniels and Jose Kusugak are the three Indigenous leaders chosen to be featured on the new set of stamps, which will become available on June 21 — National Indigenous Peoples Day.

The stamps are paying tribute to the achievements, commitment and contributions of the three leaders to the Métis, First Nations and Inuit communities they served, said Canada Post in a news release.

Canada Post says the new set is the inaugural release in a multi-year Indigenous leaders stamp series.

The unveiling event for Day Walker-Pelletier was the last the three and took place in Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask.

"She believes strongly in family and looking after children, and that's where her work continues to this day," said Lt.-Gov. Russ Mirasty during Wednesday's event.

"It's been said that Chief Marie-Anne never puts herself first. She has devoted her life to the Okanese First Nation and by extension all of us that have a stake in our communities and in our futures."

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

Day Walker-Pelletier, Canada's longest serving chief, held the elected position in Okanese, located roughly 90 kilometres east of Regina, for almost 40 years.

First elected in the early 1980s when she was 26-years-old, she previously told CBC News she initially hoped to serve her community for four years. She retired in the summer of 2020.

She was also chair of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, now the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, in 2005.

Day Walker-Pelletier is well-known as an advocate for women and children's issues. She helped the Okanese First Nation write its own legislation regarding child and family services.

Earlier this year she was part of the Indigenous delegation from Canada that met Pope Francis at the Vatican, presenting Pope Francis with baby moccasins in return for a promise for him to return them to the steps of a residential school in her region.

Day Walker-Pelletier, a residential school survivor, has been honoured several times throughout her life.

She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2018 and a member of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2021, the highest awards that people can get in the country and province, said Mirasty.

But Day Walker-Pelletier said her greatest accomplishment is her family.

"I often wonder why everybody wants to fuss about me because I'm just human, I'm just a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother," she said.

"It's not about material things. It's about families going forward. And I like to say every child matters."

'We can be pen pals forever,' says Day Walker-Pelletier

While chief positions were not often filled by women when she started, Day Walker-Pelletier said First Nations women are now and will be the leaders of the future.

"She is a real, if not the best example of how one person can make a major difference in the lives of others," said Mirasty.

"She exemplifies that we all, in our own way, can contribute."

The current chief of Okanese First Nation, Richard Stonechild, called his predecessor an amazing role model. He said she has brought a much needed balance of a woman's perspective to the leadership circles.

"For 17 years I listened, I learned, took notice and took direction and got heck," said Stonechild.

"But always there was her kindness. Her tireless dedication to the community and her absolute love for the Okanese family, especially the children."

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

After Harry Daniels, Day Walker-Pelletier is now the second Indigenous person in Saskatchewan to be honoured with a stamp this year by Canada Post.

Daniels was a Métis man from Saskatchewan, well-known for his legal battle, Daniels v. Canada, which would lead to the recognition of Métis and non-status First Nations people as "Indians" as per Canada's constitution in 2016.

Jose Kusugak, an Inuk politician from Repulse Bay, Nunavut, was the centre of a stamp unveiling on Tuesday evening in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

While both Daniels and Kusugak have died, Day Walker-Pelletier was happy to be able to witness the release of her stamp.

"I encourage everyone to buy a stamp," she said. "Please send me a letter. We can be pen pals forever."

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