Greg Lyndon remembers the primary day he met Harold Johnson, a Métis lawyer and celebrated creator who died Wednesday.
Lyndon, freshly known as to the bar, was attending the identical circuit court docket in northern Saskatchewan as Johnson. Proceedings broke for lunch and the 2 sat down collectively for a chunk to eat.
“I was putting on my best show, with my fancy law degrees and all,” Lyndon recollects.
Johnson assessed the brand new man together with his piercing blue eyes, took in Lyndon’s snappy new lawyer swimsuit.
“He looked at me across the table and his first question was whether or not I was a musher. He didn’t care about these fancy degrees. He wanted to know if I ran dogs.”
It was a typical little bit of cheekiness from a person who typically wore moccasins in court docket. But that was only one facet of a person who, at numerous occasions, was a lawyer, author, trapper, fisher, mechanic, heavy gear operator, miner, logger, firefighter, union organizer and tree planter.
“The storyteller, trapper, father, brother, husband, uncle Harold R. Johnson took his final breath today and will continue the rest of his journey on to the other side,” mentioned a press release from his household. “He was surrounded by his loved ones.”
Born in 1954, Johnson was the son of a Cree mom and Swedish father, a member of the Montreal Lake First Nation. He determined to review regulation, ultimately graduating from Harvard Law School — the place, along with his research, he completed his first novel “Billy Tinker”.
After years in non-public apply in northern courts, he selected to turn into a prosecutor.
“After years of fighting The Man, now he was The Man,” mentioned Lyndon.
But he was there to assist, to not put folks away.
“He always looked for alternatives, as opposed to jail,” mentioned retired decide Gerald Morin, a member of the Peter Ballantyne First Nation. “He tried to look at what was behind the actions of people.”
Eventually, that wasn’t sufficient. He misplaced religion within the justice system and left the regulation.
There had been, nevertheless, the books — 11 of them, from non-fiction calls to motion to genre-bending narrative to out-and-out fantasy.
His polemic “Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours)” was nominated for the 2016 Governor General’s Award.
“Clifford” (2018) was a daring mixture of truth and fantasy impressed by the lifetime of his older brother. His 2015 novel “Corvus”, a dystopia set in a world ravaged by local weather change and warfare, was chosen for CBC’s Canada Reads lengthy checklist. He blended Cree and Nordic fable — drawing on either side of his personal background — for the fantasy novel “The Bjorkan Sagas”.
“Harold did not simply push the boundaries of literature, he rewrote them,” mentioned a press release from House of Anansi Press, Johnson’s writer.
“He wrote stories of reimagination and alternate futures, of light and exploration. It was a true pleasure to work with him and to be a part of bringing his books to the world.”
While he left the regulation, he didn’t depart his fellow Indigenous legal professionals. Eleanore Sunchild, who represented Coulten Boushie’s household in a troublesome, racially charged homicide trial of the person who shot him, mentioned Johnson’s help was very important to her.
“I wasn’t a very popular person (during the trial),” she mentioned. “Harold reached out to me and provided words of encouragement.”
Even when he was sick with the lung most cancers that ultimately killed him, he tried to coach the following technology of legal professionals. Morin remembers him talking to regulation college students on the University of British Columbia, then getting on a airplane to Toronto for his subsequent spherical of remedies.
“He realized there was so much more to do and that he was not ready to die,” mentioned Morin. “He was willing to give it one last shot.”
Eventually, although, acceptance got here. Johnson known as Morin a couple of days earlier than his loss of life to say goodbye.
“He knew what he was facing. He was at peace.”
Throughout his 68 years, Johnson saved his Cree heritage near his coronary heart. For a lot of his life, he lived in a cabin on a trapline an hour’s drive from the closest city.
“He was so proud to be Indigenous,” mentioned Sunchild, who first met Johnson at a spherical dance.
“He was a hunter, he was a trapper, he practiced ceremony, he knew his language. Despite the level of education that he received, he was able to maintain that connection to the land.”
And everybody who knew him remembers his snicker.
“He had quite a distinctive laugh,” Lyndon mentioned.
“It started with a little grin,” Morin recalled.
It would come after he’d caught you off-guard, and the snicker would let you recognize his remark wasn’t critical, that the joke was on him. The snicker was consistent with the person, mentioned Sunchild.
“He had a really genuine laugh.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Feb. 10, 2022.
— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960
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