The University of Toronto has awarded an honorary doctor of law degree to Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The degree was conferred upon Coon Come at the University during spring convocation on June 14, 2001. While there to receive his degree, Coon Come also addressed students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in commerce and arts and science.
A press release from the University of Toronto cited the many reasons Coon Come was chosen as the recipient of this great honour. He has been recognized as a “long-time defender of aboriginal rights at home and abroad,” and as a social leader who has “successfully articulated the concerns of the James Bay Cree and other Canadian native peoples to the federal government.” Particular mention was made of his involvement in the historic and special referendum on aboriginal sovereignty that coincided with the 1995 Quebec referendum. With Coon Come at the helm, the Grand Council of the Crees presented a powerful counterpoint to the aims of Quebec secessionists, by successfully arguing for an even more logical recognition of Aboriginal claims to nationhood.
The University also made mention of Coon Come’s involvement in the Grand Council’s success in gaining consultative status at the United Nations. This international status was then used to bring issues vital to indigenous people from all over the world to the immediate attention of the international community. Coon Come was also recognized as a leader in environmental concerns, especially for his efforts in the battle with Hydro-Quebec, for which he won the Goldman prize (the Nobel prize of environmental awards) in 1994. A more worthy recipient for an honorary degree would be hard to find. Congratulations Matthew.