04/11/2014 10:53 EDT | Updated 06/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Noel Knockwood, champion of Mi'kmaq culture in Nova Scotia, dies at 81

HALIFAX - Noel Knockwood, a spiritual leader in Nova Scotia known for his fierce dedication to Mi'kmaq culture, has died.

He was 81.

Premier Stephen McNeil extended his condolences Friday on Knockwood's death, saying he was considered a pillar of his community who was committed to Mi'kmaq people and traditions.

Knockwood was born in Shubenacadie, about 60 kilometres northeast of Halifax, and attended the Shubenacadie Indian Residential School during his early years before joining the military.

A Korean War veteran, Knockwood served as the first aboriginal sergeant-at-arms for the provincial legislature from 2000 to 2005.

He also served on the Mi'kmaq Grand Council and was awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for his efforts to strengthen Mi'kmaq heritage and spirituality in 2002.