By Chelsea Laskowski

Hundreds of people, from politicians to police officers, are sending messages of support after the early Tuesday death of 69-year-old Peepeekisis First Nation Elder Mike Pinay.

This outpouring represents how prominent Pinay was after a life of advocating for people to respect each other “no matter what colour you are,” said his son Randall Bellegarde.

Pinay himself wasn’t a politician but was just as widely known, sometimes jokingly called an “Indigenous library” because of his knowledge of First Nations culture. Among many other roles, Pinay sat on the Regina Police Service’s Elders Advisory Board and emceed powwows across Canada and the United States.

“Everybody knew Mike. All through powwow country, all through First Nations,” said Peepeekisis Deputy Chief Alan Bird.

Pinay was a leader, firmly rooted in his culture, and there was “a lesson with all his words, basically,” said Michelle Bellegarde.

Michelle is another of Pinay’s eight children, but jokingly said Pinay had more than 400 children because of all the young people he mentored and adopted as his own over the years.

Michelle said her father had a hard time saying no, and that meant her family had to share her father with other responsibilities.

However, “he always made time for us,” Randall said, adding that “you couldn’t have asked for a better father figure.”

Pinay`s children often tagged along at the functions he was involved in, because “he worked for the people. He was a very hard worker for his people,” Michelle said.

Pinay is being remembered for his work ethic, sense of humour, patience, wisdom, and love of double doubles from Tim Hortons.

Bird recalls Pinay in younger years, after they grew up as neighbours and after Pinay was sent to Lebret Indian Residential School.

Bird said Pinay held a number of jobs, including welding and farming, but also took an active interest in traditional ceremonies at a young age.

“He went out and he left the First Nation and he went out and he found his ceremonial way with the old people throughout the communities and the treaty area,” Bird said.

“He liked that trail of helping people and helping people understand who they are in their culture.”

Pinay operated many sweat lodges and also taught treaties to educators.

A fond memory for Bird came in 2014, when Pinay played a large role in a partnership with a group of Christian community workers to bring 24 buffalo to the First Nation. (http://www.islandbreezesk.com/2014/07/01/the-buffalo-are-coming/ )

The day the buffalo came, Pinay sang ancestral songs with youths learning the songs along with him, Bird said.

“It was another emotional day in our community as the First Nation people of the plains. The buffalo were  back in our community, our spirits were united once more.”

Pinay’s death came after being hospitalized for a disease that longtime friend Howie Thomson wouldn’t share, but said it started with a “c.”

“In the Indian way we won’t say it, because the disease he had, it’s so evil so we don’t welcome evil around our lives,” he said.

Thomson got to know Pinay over the years as they shared the mic emceeing powwows, and was able to visit Pinay in hospital in the weeks before his death. Even then, Pinay was making plans for a sweat lodge ceremony, which Thomson considers to be inspirational.

“He said there was no such word out there, ‘pity me.’ There was no such thing like that. He was going solid forward,” Thomson said.

Thomson considered Pinay a mentor for himself, and for many up and coming powwow emcees.

Pinay’s family is getting guidance from Elders as they cope with his passing.

Even so, the pain is strong for Michelle.

“I’m going to be lost, you know. It’s tough. He was a strong, strong family man,” she said.

There will be two wake services for Pinay, the first on Thursday, July 21 at First Nations University from 10 a.m. to noon and the second will be at 4 p.m. in Lebret’s Whitecalf Gym. His funeral is at 11 a.m. on Friday, July 22 at the gym.

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