Metis leader Clem Paul died on July 30 at age 64.
Kathy Paul, his sister, described him as a “Metis icon.”
For the last three years of his life, however, he had been sick.
“One thing after another. He had bladder cancer, he beat that,” Kathy said, adding that he also suffered from diabetes.
But then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly before his death.
“It was a mass that was growing on a tube from the pancreas to the liver. The mass was squeezing that tube, so he couldn’t process anything. He couldn’t eat anything. He ate and it came back up. He ended up basically starving to death,” his sister said.
The Pauls came from a big Metis family of 12 siblings. Clem was born in the old Yellowknife hospital, which is where the RCMP detachment is located now. In 1958, the family moved to School Draw Avenue, where a Metis community was established.
Clem and his brothers and sisters attended a Catholic school. It was there that Clem met his best friend, Trevor Teed.
Many years later, on Nov. 11, 1990, Clem saved Teed’s life. After Teed fell into the freezing water of Harding Lake, Paul was able to pull Teed out, but he wasn’t able to save Billy Balsillie, another close friend.
That night changed the surviving men’s lives. They both cut out alcohol and, for Teed, drugs as well.
Clem was awarded the Governor General’s Medal of Bravery for his heroic actions.
“But he always believed he failed because he didn’t save Billy. Even though he saved my life, he felt he didn’t achieve what he set out to do,” said Teed.
Clem’s venture into politics began in the 1980s when he went to federal court to ensure Metis people were still recognized as Metis under the Tlicho land claim.
“They wanted to commit genocide on us and make us Tlicho people without our consent,” said Kathy. “It was a sad, sad situation, but Clem was a visionary and he had a plan for the North Slave, the Mountain Island Metis — these are unique people who were Metis people who signed a treaty in 1921.”
During his 40 years in politics, Clem’s political dream was to have a separate band for Metis people. He served as president of three Metis organizations: Metis Local 55, which evolved into the Yellowknife Metis Council, and he was also the president on the North Slave Metis Alliance.
Teed said Clem’s biggest political influence was his mom, who was “a very strong willed, independent lady who had really strong core values for family and friends.”
Teed recalls that Clem’s mother, Theresa Paul, was the first Indigenous person that he’s aware of who stood up to the government and said no when they tried to move her from her home in the School Draw Avenue. She eventually succeeded in getting title to the land where she was living, he said.
“I think her influence is still seen today,” said Teed.
He added that the last 10 years were the happiest he had seen Clem in the past three decades because he met Leone Paul, who became his wife.
Family meant so much to Clem, according to Kathy. He had three children and 11 grandchildren. She called them the highlight of his life.
After a hospital stay, he came home for two days and died surrounded by his loved ones. Before passing on, he told Kathy’s husband to just listen to the kids running around, laughing and playing.
She recalled him saying, ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ That’s all he wanted in life, “just to hear the chatter of the family,” she said.