It was a bitterly cold mid-January week even by Alberta standards, but that didn’t slow Jason Goodstriker.
On that Monday, Mr. Goodstriker met with a frustrated public as a member of the provincial government’s “Fair Deal” panel at a meeting in Lloydminster. The next day, he drove for five hours to the town of Slave Lake, in northern Alberta. Wednesday, he helped run a hockey clinic for First Nations youth featuring former Edmonton Oilers Marty McSorley and Chris Joseph. That evening, Mr. Goodstriker joined friends to go ice fishing in warmed huts on Lesser Slave Lake, even as temperatures dipped down to -40 C.
It was a typical pace for the prominent First Nations leader who appeared to be in perpetual motion across the Canadian and American west, through both his work as an Indigenous adviser for an oil and gas service company, and in his role as a popular master of ceremonies for powwow – the music and dance gatherings held by Indigenous communities across North America.
“I would describe him as the voice of powwow across the Canadian prairies,” Enoch Cree Nation Chief Billy Morin said.
Mr. Goodstriker died at the age of 47 – during that busy week, after returning to his hotel room from ice-fishing – in the morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 16. Fourteen months earlier, he had been diagnosed with diabetes and hospitalized. After that, his sister, Nadine Tailfeathers, said he had been “trying to restore balance with his health.” His family says an autopsy has yet to be completed.
Mr. Goodstriker had served as a councillor for the Blood Tribe, and was a onetime Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations. But beyond his official titles, he had long been a key bridge-builder between Alberta’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous spheres.
Gregarious by nature, Mr. Goodstriker greeted many with the traditional Blackfoot welcome of “Oki" and was rarely seen without a cowboy hat, or headdress regalia for special occasions. He counted friends from all quarters of the province – from Alberta premiers to chiefs from Alberta’s four-dozen bands to individual First Nations members opposed to increased fossil fuel development. He knew everyone, but he was a prominent member of a small cadre of prairie Indigenous leaders vocal in their support of the oil and gas sector, and was outspoken about the need for more jobs for First Nations people, in all parts of the industry.
“We’re not just flaggers, we’re not just truck drivers, we’re not just somebody who sits in the back office. We sit in the corporate offices, as well, which is exciting for us," Mr. Goodstriker told an energy conference at the Tsuutʼina First Nation just outside Calgary last November, as he implored business leaders to hire more “real Indians” rather than those with a tenuous claim to Indigenous ancestry.
“To tell the truth, downtown in Calgary, it gets a little lonely for guys like me.”
Mr. Goodstriker was born in the town of Fort Macleod on Sept. 26, 1972 – the second child to Wilton and Evelyn Goodstriker, a prominent couple on the Blood reserve in Alberta’s scenic southwestern corner. Evelyn hailed from the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation in southern Saskatchewan and had been attending what was then Mount Royal College in Calgary, when she met and married Wilton, a bareback rider who would go on to be the city’s first Indigenous police officer.
Jason grew up on the family’s ranch on the reserve. His sister, Nadine, said she and her three younger brothers had a "free-roaming” childhood, running through the valley and camping out at night with cousins they considered as close as siblings.
“When we got on our horses, we could go all over," Ms. Tailfeathers said. “There was a lot of open land and we could ride all over the place.”
Mr. Goodstriker attended high school at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, a boarding school in Wilcox, Sask. The founder’s credo was, “God, Canada, and hockey,” and Mr. Goodstriker’s time playing for the Notre Dame Hounds was a high point of his early life.
Hockey would be a lifelong passion, but it was the powwow where Mr. Goodstriker excelled. During road trips as an undergraduate at the University of Lethbridge, he was already thinking about how he could become the background voice of the powwow, the all-important role of MC, long-time friend Stephen Buffalo said.
“All of a sudden, he’d put in a powwow tape, and he would practice calling in the grand entry,” Mr. Buffalo said. “And he’d ask, ‘How’d that sound?’”
Mr. Goodstriker organized a powwow at the university, where his family said he was also the first-ever First Nations student elected to the students’ union. Politics soon became a full-time job. He was elected as a Blood Tribe councillor in 2000, and after that, served one term as regional Assembly of First Nations chief. One of his key accomplishments in Ottawa, Mr. Goodstriker recalled, was being a part of the negotiating team for the multibillion-dollar Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
While Mr. Goodstriker also counted former premier Ralph Klein as a friend, he wasn’t afraid to challenge the provincial government when needed, either. As an AFN regional chief, he pushed Mr. Klein to give First Nations a greater share of energy royalties.
In 2006, Mr. Goodstriker lost in his bid to win another term as AFN regional chief. With politics on the back burner, Mr. Goodstriker’s role as a showman came into focus again. In recent years, he had racked up powwow gigs from Honolulu to Toronto, according to Mr. Buffalo. His style was shoot-from-the-hip ("Hey you chicken dancers: It’s Prairie Chicken, not barnyard chicken,” Mr. Buffalo remembers as one of his friend’s unmistakable powwow lines).
“People were thinking it, and scared to say it. But he would just say it,” Mr. Buffalo said.
Since 2011, Mr. Goodstriker had worked as a consultant for a number of energy-service-sector companies, according to friend and former colleague Steve Parsons. For the past 2½ years, Mr. Goodstriker was a senior Indigenous adviser with Total Energy Services. In working for the industry, he wanted to see Indigenous communities seize more autonomy and wealth as oil and natural gas was extracted from their traditional lands.
In November, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had appointed Mr. Goodstriker to the Fair Deal panel, established by the United Conservative Party government to travel the province to hold town-hall-like meetings to hear Albertans’ grievances about their now-uneasy relationship with Ottawa and other provinces. Mr. Buffalo said with his appointment to the panel, his friend had felt reinvigorated about public life.
At a funeral service at the University of Lethbridge on Jan. 25, the Alberta Premier spoke of Mr. Goodstriker’s multiple successful careers, underpinned by a rich social life, and his friend’s “eternal smile and good humour." Former NHL star Theo Fleury, former federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, and Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde were also among the many mourners. Hundreds more had attended a 12-hour overnight wake earlier on the Blood reserve.
Even in Alberta, not everyone agreed with Mr. Goodstriker’s pro-energy-development position. But Chief Morin said he had a way of getting people in a room to focus on what they agreed on, instead of their differences.
“He could transcend tribal differences, he could transcend different languages, and he could transcend different generations,” said Chief Morin, who also serves as Grand Chief of Treaty Six.
“He was born with the ability to make people laugh, and to acknowledge their pain.”
Mr. Goodstriker married and divorced several times. He leaves his wife, Tiffany Pompana; children, Elle, Jaelyn, Sadie and Mirabel Goodstriker; adopted children, Shane, Keshia, Mia Pompana, and Mireya and Na’tehya Curly Rider; parents, Wilton and Evelyn Goodstriker; siblings, Nadine, Chris and Josh; and extended family.