SASKATOON -- A long time Indigenous leader in Saskatchewan has died.

Ron Michel was 69 years old when he died late Monday night, according to the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC). Michel was the grand chief of the PAGC for 12 years and spent over 20 years as chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN). He also served two years as a band councillor.

“There are some leaders who simply command respect, not only because they display a determined, fierce and confident attitude in their cause, but because they display this vision of determination, fierceness and confidence that is driven by compassion and a deep love for the people,” PAGC said in a news release.

“Senator Michel was one of those leaders.”

Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said he spoke over the phone to Michel before he died in Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital.

“I told him ‘Grand chief, you’ve done your job. You’ve done it well,’” he said. “I’ve often told Ron, ‘I feel like you’re my uncle.’”

It was like losing a family member, explained Hardlotte. Even though Michel had been in hospital for months, his death was still a shock.

Hardlotte said Michel was an educator, just like his wife. During his political career, he contributed to multiple projects, including enhancing quality of care at the Victoria Hospital. He often worked alongside the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, advocating to government on behalf of Indigenous peoples.

“We will continue with his legacy,” said Hardlotte.

PBCN Chief Peter Beatty said Michel was a people person, who was dedicated to his family. He always had a positive outlook on life.

“He was always laughing whenever you were with him and making jokes, whether he was playing hockey or playing golf back in the day. I remember a lot of times that we had,” said Beatty.

“It was really an honour to work with somebody like that.”

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne described Michel as someone with a “people first” philosophy. Dionne said it’s clear that Michel passed on his leadership traits to current chiefs and other PAGC staff.

“He’s done lots for his people. He was a great advocacy person for the people and he fought hard for the people,” said Dionne.

“He lived for his people. He believed in Treaty rights — he believed in housing, he believed in health … He fought for those rights.”

With files from Lisa Risom