Stoney Nakoda chief lit up the world with smiles

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 25, 2016

Chief Bill McLean, globetrotting ambassador of smiles, brought light into the life of Maori children during his 1977 visit to New Zealand. Photo by Warren Harbeck

His Stoney Nakoda name means “Meet the Light.” The longtime chief of the Bearspaw First Nation at Morley radiated that light through his infectious smile that beckoned all he met to rise above bitterness and hatred and build a new world founded on forgiveness and reconciliation.

William “Bill” McLean passed away Aug. 16 at the age of 95. Like his father, Chief Walking Buffalo, Bill travelled to many countries and peoples in association with the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement (now known as Initiatives of Change), to help inspire just such a fundamental change for the healing of the world.

One such journey in 1977 took him to New Zealand as part of a delegation from Treaty Seven First Nations (of which the Stoney Nakoda First Nation is one) for a goodwill visit with that island country’s Maori indigenous people.

My camera and I were also included as part of that delegation – a privilege which allowed me to witness firsthand the transformative power of Bill’s smile.

It was our mid-winter but summer there when we arrived, and like their season, the welcome we received in the Maori communities was truly warm.

This was especially so at the Maori queen’s home community of Ngaruawahia, where we were received with the traditional foot-stomping haka dance, regal ceremonies, and a very tasty hangi, the Maori meal cooked in the ground that serves as a reminder of our dependence on Mother Earth.

It was the warm welcome we received there from the children that really caught Bill’s – and my camera’s – attention, however. Bill’s smile acted like a magnet to attract those young, curious minds and hearts. (No doubt, his traditional Stoney feathered regalia had their special appeal, too. See accompanying photo.)

Yes, Bill had the gift of building a better world one smile at a time.

But according to Bill’s close friend, Jack Freebury, of Edmonton, that smile did not come about by accident. He was just obeying his mother! (About the surprising, reconciliation-based turn of events that cemented their friendship nearly 60 years ago, see my column for May 18, 2005.)

Delivering the eulogy at Bill’s Aug. 22 funeral in Morley, Jack recalled what Bill had told him once about his contagious smile. When he was a child, his mother instructed him very seriously to greet everyone with a smile.

Well, throughout his long life, whether with kids or kings and queens, Bill heeded his mother’s wisdom. Carrying on his legacy of building a better world one smile at a time is up to us, now.

Thanks, Bill, for lighting the way.


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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