Snuneymuxw elder Ellen White is a Member of the Order of Canada.
She received her insignia during a special ceremony in Nanaimo March 31. Her induction into the order was announced in December.
White was recognized for her more than seven decades of work. At a young age, she campaigned to have electricity connected to her reserve and to have programs to better prepare aboriginal school children for the public school system. She wrote several books on Coast Salish beliefs and practices and created the first dictionary of the Hul’q’umi’num language. As an elder in Vancouver Island University’s native studies program, she helped build bridges between aboriginal peoples and the community.
White received her insignia from B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, on behalf of David Johnston, governor general of Canada, during a ceremony at Dufferin Place.
“The legacy that you have left us, Ellen, goes far beyond the written word and the dictionaries of Hul’q’umi’num language,” said Guichon during the ceremony. “The legacy is one of the bridges you have built, based on such strong foundations of love. You are a pioneer and an engineer, for through your love you have forged a pathway that all of us may follow, a pathway to healthy inclusive communities.”
Guichon said White worked her whole life to achieve a better country and improve the lives of all Canadians.
“Thank you so much for seven decades of leadership,” said Guichon.
Doug White III, a Snuneymuxw councillor and Ellen’s grandson, said a few words on her behalf during the ceremony.
“She’s always said to me as I’ve been growing up, you always go out and you seek and you look for expertise. You look for knowledge. You show respect for people who have suffered long and hard to gather up knowledge and experience and you ask for them to share with them what they know,” said Doug White. “You must always reach and seek to have the knowledge of our people in one hand and the knowledge of the west in the other and have them in balance if you are going to be a full person in this part of the world now. In the Coast Salish world, in what is now Canada, that our people need to hold both bodies of knowledge and mutual respect and use them together in powerful ways for the betterment of the country.”
He said his grandmother was not allowed to attend the nearby residential school and was raised with the teachings of her people, thanks to her grandmother. She used these teachings for the betterment of aboriginal peoples. Ellen White was instrumental in a historic moment in Canada during the 1960s when Clifford White and David Bob were arrested for hunting deer out of season.
“This is a very historic moment in Canada when Canada began its process of really beginning to look into what are aboriginal rights what are treaty rights,” said Doug White, adding that his grandmother advocated on their behalf as a translator in long houses in Coast Salish communities.
He said as an elder, Ellen White, shared stories about aboriginal peoples to Canadians and people around the world.
“This is one of the most important projects in our country right now, in the shadow of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was very much a manifestation of that same idea grandma has embraced throughout her life which is you must find ways for Canadians to know about who the indigenous peoples of this country are in a real way, we must write these stories down,” said Doug White.