The Late Tony Cote, S.O.M.

By: The Hon. Marty Klyne

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Hon. Marty Klyne: Honourable senators, I rise today to honour Elder Tony Cote, another trailblazer for Indigenous sports and youth participation in Saskatchewan.

Tony Cote was born on the Cote Reserve in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, in 1935. Like many Indigenous children of his generation, Tony was taken from his family and sent through the residential school system. Elder Cote was one of the residential school survivors who found the resiliency within to bounce back, enough to reach deeper and find the fortitude and perseverance to move forward and follow an inner drive to serve.

At the age of 17, Tony Cote enlisted in the military, and from 1952 to 1958 he served as a bombardier with the 81st Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. In 1953, he married Sadie Friday and together they raised seven children. During his service, Tony spent 14 months in the Korean War, for which he received the UN Korea Special Services Medal.

For most treaty status First Nations like Tony returning home from active duty, the reality was summarized by Tony during a CBC interview when he stated, “We fought dictatorship only to return to dictatorship on the home reserves, the Indian agent had total control.”

This did not deter Tony from becoming a force for positive change. Tony was elected in 1970 as the first chief of the newly recognized Cote First Nations. He served as chief for eight years. His community was inspired and thrived upon Tony’s dedication, philanthropy and support for Indigenous athletes and sports. Tony presided over building the community’s first outdoor ice arena, the first indoor artificial ice arena, a sporting complex and the Cote Recreational Centre — the first of its kind on First Nations land in Saskatchewan.

Recognizing Tony’s efforts, he was awarded the 1974 Tom Longboat Award, which recognizes Indigenous individuals for their contributions to sport in Canada. In 2008, he was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in recognition of excellence, achievement and contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the province and its residents. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame on June 18, 2011.

I know Elder Tony Cote as a leader with a steady hand on the rudder. He was visible, approachable, accessible and always a calming effect to be around. I have the privilege of saying that while I knew and respected Tony as an elder, he was also a friend.

Although we lost Tony on July 13, 2019 at the age of 84, his legacy lives on in many ways, including the recently announced donation by the Cote family of $20,000 to the First Nations University of Canada to continue the Tony Cote Scholarship. My belated condolences to his family, friends and community. Our province, nation and the free world are a better place because Tony stepped up and made it his life’s work.

Thank you, Tony. Rest in peace.

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