In recognition of her lifetime of service to Indigenous peoples, proud Huu-ay-aht elder, Marjorie White, was the 2022 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Indspire. The Indspire Awards honours Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples across Canada who are inspiring change and progress in their communities.
Born in Port Alberni in 1936, Marjorie spent her early days with her mother, Alice Peters, and family in Dodger’s Cove and Sarita. She also spent her days with her grandmother, Nina Peters [nee Jack/Shewish], on the Somass River in Tseshaht territory.
Marjorie explained she has always been immensely proud to be closely connected to the Barclay Sound Ḥaw̓iiḥ from Huu-ay-aht, Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, Tseshaht, Toquaht, and Hupacasath. It is that connection that always ‘tied her canoe at home’ and kept her heart close to her people and her homelands. Family connections and her role in it is extremely important to her. Marjorie has held three potlatches in her lifetime. The last potlatch she held was in 2010 with her siblings. She wanted to ensure that all their descendants had traditional names to keep them connected to their homelands.
From 1944 to 1956, Marjorie attended the Alberni Residential School. Although residential school took her away from her home and her family, she was fortunate to always maintain strong connections with family and culture. After losing her mother to tuberculosis when she was 14, Marjorie spent summers and school breaks with her Uncle Art and Aunt Aggie in the Bamfield area. She also spent time with her grandmother at her home on the Somass River. They would travel and work together in the hop and berry fields in Washington state.
Marjorie’s career goal has always been to provide a safe, secure environment for the enhancement and promotion of healthy living for Indigenous people. It was after leaving her community in 1956 to pursue a career as a nurse in Vancouver that she realized there was no place in the city for First Nations people, who were migrating to urban centres, to get support and access resources.
“It was such a culture shock coming from the residential school and a small, remote community on Vancouver Island. I experienced loneliness.” Marjorie said in the 2022 Indspire Awards interview. “My distance between my grandmother and me was a reality. That’s really what prompted me to do something to change the situation of our young people that were coming into the city for education or jobs.”
Her work in those early years in Vancouver led to the formal establishment of the then Vancouver Indian Centre, the first Friendship Centre in BC in 1963. The ‘Friendship Centre Movement’ quickly expanded within the province and across Canada. In 1972, Marjorie was among the founding members of both the national and provincial Friendship Centre Associations. Because of Marjorie’s determination and beliefs, you can now find 25 Friendship Centres in British Columbia and 125 across Canada.
Marjorie was also the very first Indigenous person to be appointed as a Citizenship Court Judge in 1976, as well as the first woman and Indigenous person ever appointed to the Vancouver Police Commission in 1974.
“When I was Citizenship Court Judge I sometimes spoke about the kinds of things that Canadian citizens enjoy and that as first peoples of this land, that we weren’t guaranteed those same rights and privileges that they were getting as new citizens,” said Marjorie. “And so, education is really one thing that I believe in, letting people know where we are and who we are.”
Marjorie is also recognized for starting other organizations in Vancouver, such as the Circle of Eagles Lodge Society, of which she was recently awarded for 50 years of service, Naa-na-himyis Brothers Healing Lodge (Naa-na-himyis – her traditional name meaning “going from community to community distributing”), and Anderson Healing Centre for Women, along with many others. Marjorie has filled her life and career helping people and it has not gone unnoticed.
She has received a tremendous number of awards, which include:
- Order of Canada
- Order of British Columbia
- Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (60th anniversary)
- Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (50th anniversary)
- Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal (25th anniversary)
- Huu-ay-aht Citizen of the year
- International Year of the Volunteer Award – Correctional Services Canada
- Marjorie White Apartment Complex (L’uma Native Housing)
- Gold Feather Award – Professional Native Women’s Association
- Surrey Women’s Centre recognition for lifetime community involvement
- And many community awards from local organizations.
Read the full Article in Issue 67 of Uyaqḥmis