HEART LAKE - Morris Monias was the Chief of Heart Lake Cree Nation for 26 years from 1989 to 2015, and the Grand Chief of the 16 distinct communities that make up Treaty 6. But to his friends and family he was also a man who championed Indigenous values and cared for all people, said Ken Staples, a colleague and longtime friend.
Monias was killed when the vehicle he was driving struck a semi-truck on Highway 28 near Bellis on December 31. He was 55.
“He was a very friendly, loving man. He loved his family and had very deep roots in the community…he was a very strong believer in promoting and encouraging Indigenous culture; from powwows, Treaty Day celebrations, round-dances and more,” said Staples, who worked with Monias for decades. “He always encouraged people to maintain and use their language, and be proud of who they are—he will be remembered for that.”
A funeral service was held on January 9 at the Heart Lake Community Centre, and Monias was buried at the Our Lady of Lourdes Cemetery in Heart Lake.
Reduced attendance due to pandemic protocols still saw more than 200 people attend the funeral service with dozens sending personal messages of condolences.
“I had a number of calls from industry people who wanted to come but couldn’t because of COVID, but sent their wishes,” said Staples, who read the eulogy at the service. “Under normal circumstances, there would have been 400 to 500 people there.”
Monias put much of his time into creating opportunities for his people as chief and bridging infrastructure projects from the ground up with oil field companies that are still thriving today, says Staples.
“I worked with him for 21 years at Heart Lake. My role there has changed over the years but I was seconded there by Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC) and they hired me to work with them and help them move ahead. Morris was the chief then…my involvement with him then was on a business level and we developed a construction company that is still very active and successful today. Over the years we developed a number of partnerships with a variety of companies that are primarily in the oil field and those continue to thrive today.”
Throughout the years, Staples saw the passion, teamwork and patience Monias displayed leading to a friendship that was very unique, inspiring and was more than just about work.
“As I worked with him we got to know each other and we developed a strong friendship that lasted to this day,” Staples said. “We were very close; I spent a lot of time at his home and with his family.”
Monias is survived by six children and predeceased by two sons, a daughter and his wife.
At the funeral service, Monias’ strong support of Indigenous growth and self-direction linked to culture was highlighted.
“He always said we have lived off this land for generations and continue to do so - but in a different way,” said Staples. “What that meant is for generations that community lived on the land and it supported them and they survived. But as industry moved in a lot of those opportunities to live off the land were taken away— but by developing businesses, performing work and creating opportunities for community members, the land would continue to support them but in a different way…and it has done that.”
During Monias’ time as Chief, the very first high school student graduated while learning in Heart Lake, a medical centre was created, a grand community hall was built, and a central construction office was made — all within the community. But most important for Monias, was an elders’ committee with other Treaty 6 members that he established and made decisions with.
“Morris respected the members, their advice and the direction they wanted—these are people that have a lifetime of experience,” he explained.
Leaving band politics in 2016, Monias started a rodeo stock company, breeding and training horses, enjoying the lifestyle, but continuing to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances from the political and industrial world.
“Every now and again out of the blue, I'd get a call from him and we would have a good talk,” said Staples. “I'll miss that. I’ll miss hearing the stories of his success with his horses and the good things he was doing in the community.”
Messages of condolence on websites and at the ceremony came from leaders of other Indigenous nations, industrial partners like Conoco-Phillips and Meg Energy, and representatives of band-operated businesses like Heart Lake Industrial Paramedics.
The ceremony service was hard for those closest to him, but his loved ones got to say goodbye and sent him off the way he would have wanted, said Staples, explaining that after the public ceremony, the coffin was loaded onto a horse-drawn wagon and carried to the cemetery.
“He will be missed by his family and community and he will be remembered for a long time.”