Chief Wilton Littlechild found salvation from the residential school system and became the first Treaty Indian ever elected to Parliament.
Chief Wilton Littlechild (’67 BPE, ’75 MA, ’76 LLB) is the first Treaty Indian in Alberta to earn a law degree from the University of Alberta, and the first Treaty Indian ever elected to the Canadian Parliament.
Born in the Cree community of Maskwacis, Alta., Littlechild spent 14 years in residential schools, ultimately finding his salvation in sports and education. Under the tutelage of legendary Golden Bears coach Clare Drake, Littlechild played hockey at the U of A while completing his bachelor’s degree in physical education. He was also on the Bears swim team, and student manager of the football and basketball teams, before completing his law degree.
In 1988, Littlechild became the first Treaty Indian in Canada to serve as a member of Parliament. He served as MP for the riding of Wetaskiwin-Rimbey from 1988–1993, serving on several senior committees in the House of Commons and as a parliamentary delegate to the United Nations. Chosen as Rapporteur for two terms, he was one of only 16 dignitaries to serve as an independent expert on Indigenous issues as part of the United Nations Permanent Forum. He then served as Chairperson on the UN Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Littlechild has represented Indigenous peoples at the United Nations in various roles since 1977, and helped draft the United Nations and OAS Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In 2001, Littlechild chaired the Commission on First Nations and Métis Peoples and Justice Reform in the province of Saskatchewan. In 2009, he was named one of three commissioners on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. He served in that role until the commission’s completion in 2015.
Littlechild has served as Regional Chief and International Chief for treaties 6, 7 and 8. He is the Honorary Chief for the Maskwacis Crees and also International Chief for the Treaty №6 Confederacy. Littlechild operates the law firm of J. Wilton Littlechild, Barrister and Solicitor, on the Ermineskin Reserve. In 2015, at the age of 71, Littlechild claimed a gold medal in his age group at the World Indigenous Nations Games in Brazil.
Littlechild was invested in the Order of Canada in 1999 and received the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2014. In 1999 and 2000 he received the World Fete D’Excellence Laureate for Sports. and in 2009 he was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. He has been indicted into six other Hall of Fames. He has been awarded Queen’s Counsel and Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel, the highest honours of the legal profession. He was honoured as Lawyer of the Year (Aboriginal Law) in 2012, and has received three Queen Elizabeth II Medals, including the Diamond Jubilee Medal. He received the Distinguished Award from the Association of Former Parliamentarians in 2006. He was inducted into the U of A’s Sports Wall of Fame in 1986, and was the recipient of the U of A’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, and has since received his honorary doctorate from the University of Lethbridge and the University of Manitoba.
For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.