Indigenous author Harold R. Johnson dead after battle with cancer

The family of Harold R. Johnson said he died on Feb. 9, 2022, in Toronto surrounded by loved ones after a battle with cancer. He was 64. File / Global News

A prominent Saskatchewan Indigenous author has died.

The family of Harold R. Johnson said he died Wednesday in Toronto surrounded by loved ones after a battle with cancer. He was 64.

“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,” Johnson’s family posted on Facebook on Wednesday.

Johnson, a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, was born and raised in northern Saskatchewan and joined the Canadian Navy at the age of 17.

He went on to work as a logger and miner before returning to school and graduating with a law degree from Harvard. Johnson also attended the University of Saskatchewan.

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Johnson practiced law in a private firm for several years then became a Crown prosecutor.

His first book, Billy Tinker, was published in 2001. Johnson went on to write five more fiction novels and five non-fiction books.

He was short-listed for a Governor General’s Award for his non-fiction book, Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours).

Johnson drew on his eight years of experience as a Crown prosecutor to look and the devastating impact alcohol has had on Indigenous people.

“Everything that happens in Canada happens in the Aboriginal world as well and quite often it’s amplified,” he said in a 2017 interview with Global News.

“You’ve got alcohol problems in Canada, when you get into the north it’s worse.”

He also took a critical look at the justice system in the wake of Colton Boushie’s shooting death and the acquittal of Gerald Stanley.

Johnson said Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada, was his act of taking responsibility for his actions and inactions as a lawyer and Crown prosecutor.

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“Thank you for your wise words following the acquittal of Gerald Stanley and acknowledging the difficulties of being a practising Indigenous lawyer in a racist system,” Eleanore Sunchild said in a Facebook post.

“You were there at the right time, when I felt alone, attacked and you were a friend.”

Johnson’s family said a celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

Correction: Harold R. Johnson was 64 at the time of his death. A previous version of this story said he was 68.

Click to play video: '‘Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (And Yours)’'
‘Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (And Yours)’

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