Lifelong advocate for Indigenous people, Huu-ay-aht elder awarded Order of Canada

Denise Titian, July 5, 2018

In June it was announced that Huu-ay-aht member Marjorie White would be among the next appointments to the Order of Canada. (Government of British Columbia photo)

New Westminster, B.C. — 

As one of the 105 appointees to the Order of Canada this year, Marjorie White is a proactive woman. The Huu-ay-aht elder left her community in 1956 to study nursing in Vancouver. “I boarded with five other students and we noticed there was no place for us to gather or access services,” said White. So she, in partnership with other concerned First Nations people, started one.

It took several years, starting with the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club, founded by a small group of transplanted Aboriginal students. After much consultation and networking, the club incorporated in 1963, changing its name to the Vancouver Indian Center Society, thus forming the first Aboriginal Friendship Centre in the province.

White says a group in Manitoba was first to receive federal funding and opened their Indian Centre just ahead of the Vancouver Indian Centre. But White is proud of her contributions to both the national and provincial Friendship Centre societies and continues to do board work to this day.

According to the NAFC (National Association of Friendship Centers), Friendship Centres are Canada’s most significant off-reserve Indigenous service delivery infrastructure and are the primary providers of culturally enhanced programs to urban Indigenous residents. They are intended to help Indigenous people transition from life in their remote communities to the urban centres.

In time, the idea grew and now there are 25 Friendship Centers in British Columbia and 125 across the nation.

This is just one of many accomplishments Marjorie White has achieved in her lifetime.

“You can spend all day talking about Marj’s accomplishments,” said Huu-ay-aht elected Chief Robert Dennis, who added that he’s received dozens of emails congratulating White. He listed some of her community work carried out from her New Westminster home.

She’s involved in the Aboriginal Mother Center Society, the Circle of Eagles Society, which helps prison inmates transition into mainstream society in a culturally sensitive way.

“For her, the people always come first; she is always concerned about people of all ages,” added Dennis.

White’s other notable achievements include being the first Aboriginal person appointed to Citizen Court Judge in Canada and the first woman and Aboriginal appointee to the Vancouver Police Commission.

White says she has been involved for 25 years with the Lu’ma Native Housing in Vancouver, which she describes as very successful. Not only has the society delivered native housing to low income families, they’ve also introduced the Lu’ma Medical Centre and the Aboriginal Patients’ Lodge.

According to White, the Aboriginal Patient’s Lodge provides short term housing to families faced with long-term illness and seeking treatment in Vancouver. The Medical Center provides culturally safe healthcare with Aboriginal doctors and other healthcare practitioners. The society is working on developing a cultural healing component to the program.

White says she is proud of what she has accomplished over her lifetime and of how the government recognizes with appointments over the years. “I am proud of the progress the Friendship Centres have made all across the nation; they started small in basements or in churches and they’ve grown all across Canada,” said White.

In 2016 White was bestowed of the Order of British Columbia.

“Marj is one of our most respectable elders – always involved, always attending meetings and cultural gatherings. She is a good mentor for our community,” said Dennis while reflecting on White’s most recent recognition. “It is well-deserved and couldn’t go to a better, more socially active person.”

White retired in 2005 but remains active on several boards, including those tied to the provincial and national Friendship Centre societies. She is invited to do public speaking engagements and remains involved in Canadian Citizenship ceremonies as an elder to welcome new citizens to the country.

“I always keep close ties with my Huu-ay-aht community,” said White, adding that it’s important to remember where you come from.

White’s grandmother, Nina Peters, always told her to be selfless.

“What I’ve done is not for myself but for the people; my grandmother always said to help the people – don’t just think about yourself,” said White. “I enjoy working with people and seeing success.”