Chief Billy Diamond: 1949-2010

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The first Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, Billy Diamond passed away on September 30, 2010. Word from Waskaganish at press time reports that he had a heart attack and was pronounced dead at 11:50 am at the clinic in Waskaganish. He was 61 years old.

Diamond suffered a stroke in 2008 and was told he would never walk again. Months later, he was on the mend, being able to walk short distances and had recovered almost full use of his left arm.

Diamond was born in a tent near Waskaganish on May 17, 1949. He first became the Chief of Waskaganish (then Rupert House) in 1970 and was Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Cree from 1974 to 1984. At the pinnacle of his career, Diamond was the head of Air Creebec, the Cree Construction Company and Cree Yamaha Motors. He also won an audience with Pope John Paul II during this time. He was awarded an honourary doctorate from Ottawa’s Carleton University in 1998. In 1989, a biography of his life, Chief: The Fearless Vision of Billy Diamond, was written by Roy MacGregor and published by Viking.

Throughout his career, Diamond was always a controversial figure, being called everything from a tyrant to a saint. He was known and will be missed for his wit, humour and intelligence. Gifted with a booming voice, those who knew him best, friend and foe alike, will recall him well for his fiery, spellbinding oratory, which he wielded with deadly effect in both Cree and English.

Chief Billy Diamond is survived by his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Lorraine, his sons Ian, Sanford, and Philip, and his siblings Charlie, George, Stanley, Agnes and Gertie. His brother Albert passed away almost 13 months before him.

A full story will be published in the next issue of the Nation.

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