Mike Cardinal
Mr. Cardinal in his later years.

Mike Cardinal, a member of the Alberta Legislature from 1989 to 2008 and an influential minister in Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservative cabinet, died on Jan. 12. He was 81. 

Melvin Percy Joseph Cardinal, known by all as Mike, was the first Status Indian to hold a cabinet post in Alberta.

He held five portfolios in the Klein Government during the years he served as MLA for Athabasca-Lac La Biche, Athabasca-Wabasca and Athabasca-Redwater, always winning handily.

“I found I had to work twice as hard to get nominated and elected,” Cardinal told the Windspeaker newspaper in 1993, soon after he was appointed to cabinet. As an Indigenous person, he said, “you have to work very hard to get equal with the other guy.”

In 1988, while running for the PCs for the first time, he told Windspeaker that he believed he was the first First Nations citizen to run for the Conservative party. 

“He dedicated himself to improving the lives of people in Alberta, especially Indigenous people,” the obituary written by his family said. “His dream was for our people to be educated, self-sufficient and successful.”

In 1990, while still a backbencher, Cardinal sponsored the Metis Settlements and Land Protection Act, which was intended to give Metis settlements ownership of their land, his Wikipedia entry notes. 

Named family and social services minister in 1992 by Klein, Cardinal also held responsibility for Indigenous Relations during his time in that portfolio.

He served in a variety of cabinet roles until 2008, when he chose not to seek re-election. These included the associate minister of forestry, minister of resource development, minister of sustainable resource development, and minister of human resources and employment (as the labour portfolio was known in those days). 

Cardinal was born in 1941 in the town of Slave Lake into a family of 13. He was the son of a trapper and a homemaker. He dropped out of school in Grade 8 to work but returned later and graduated from Grade 12. Before entering public life, he spent a decade in the Alberta forest and timber industry.

Before his election as an MLA, Cardinal was a town councillor in Slave Lake and a trustee on the board of Northland School Division No. 61 for six years, three of which he was board chair. 

A traditional wake and pipe ceremony was held in Calling Lake on January 19. 

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...