An activist from a young age, Lillian Howard fought for the rights of Indigenous people - and for planet earth.
She was a mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, relative, friend to many. She was a former co-chair for the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council representing the northern nations of Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h', Ehattesaht, Nuchatlaht and her home of Mowachaht/Muchalaht. Howard died in hospital in Vancouver on Oct. 30 with family by her side.
Before her passing Howard learned that she was chosen to receive an honorary degree from her alma mater, Royal Roads University, where she graduated in 2007 with a MA in Environmental Education and Communication
In fact, back in 2007, Professor Rick Kool, who delivered Howard’s citation, predicted that she would one day be honoured in this way.
“In 2007, as she was nearing the completion of her MA thesis under the supervision of Professor Brian White, I wrote to our Vice-President Academic, Dr. Steve Grundy, that ‘Someday, RRU may see fit to give her an honorary doctorate’,” stated Kool.
That day came Nov. 19, 2021, in a pre-recorded ceremony that was presented online during the Royal Roads University Fall 2021 Virtual Convocation. During the pre-recorded event a song was sung for Howard by Tseshaht member Jessica Sault.
In his citation, Professor Kool said, “For five decades, Lillian Howard was on the frontlines of advocacy for Indigenous people in B.C. and Canada. Lillian's years of work and unwavering dedication will be recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Royal Roads University, during the 2021 fall convocation ceremony Nov. 19, 2021.”
He noted that the honorary degree became official before Howard’s passing.
“There is comfort in knowing Lillian and her family could share in the knowledge of the special place Lillian always holds within the Royal Roads family. Her words, actions and fearless determination will live on and inspire others to follow in her footsteps,” said Kool.
He continued, “Hailing from the Yuquot Village, ‘the place where the winds blow from all directions,’ a member of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation of Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka'wakw and Tlingit ancestry, Lillian attended RRU in her fifties, earning a Master of Arts in Environmental Education as part of the second-ever cohort of that program. But she had been a social and environmental advocate since the 1970s when she was involved in the McKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry.”
"The elders were wonderful teachers," Lillian wrote in her 2007 thesis. "My great-grandmother had a keen interest in what was happening on land and environment. She believed in appreciating our roots and staying connected to the land.”
"My great-grandparents taught me a lot about our people, lands and territories. They helped me to shape my interest in culture and history, the environment and the larger society. Both of my great-grandparents… played a significant role in building the foundation for my lifelong interest in Aboriginal, social and environmental matters,” she continued.
Kool said that the 1980s saw her work with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs on a campaign to gain support for Indigenous rights, then become involved with treaty processes for several First Nations, including as co-chief negotiator for the Nuu-chah-nulth Framework Agreement.
In later years Howard was vice co-chair of the Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Peoples Advisory Committee and sat on the Vancouver Police Department Aboriginal Advisory Committee. She also served on the Douglas College Aboriginal Advisory Committee (and as elder for Douglas' Aboriginal Stream), the McCreary Centre Society advisory committee, the West Coast LEAF Aboriginal Advisory Committee, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Indigenous Council.
According to Kool, she belonged to the Butterflies in Spirit dance group, which raises awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. She was also the co-founder of the Uplifting Indigenous Families Fund, which raised money to assist families during and after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Lillian wrote that she attended the Christie and Mission Indian Residential Schools.
"Attending the residential school had a traumatic effect on me,” she recalled. “I learned to cry silently. For the longest time, I felt deeply saddened about losing the ability to speak my Mowachaht language. I have accepted that dealing with issues arising from the institution is a lifelong healing journey."
Royal Roads said Lillian was a survivor and learned to build strength from her challenges. In 2019, she modelled for Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week. In 2021 she was a speaker at Genome BC's annual genomics forum alongside doctors Bonnie Henry and Anthony Fauci. She was also conference elder at the Indigenomics Institute's Indigenomics by Design 2021 Conference.
Lillian also shared her time as an advisor for Indigenous Health – Provincial Health Services Authority, provided support services for Indigenous women and families at the BC Women's Hospital, and was a board member of EAGLE, or Environmental Aboriginal Guardianship through Law and Education.
ReMatriate, a Canadian Indigenous women's collective that uses social media to connect Indigenous peoples - particularly women - through art, showcased and recognized Lillian with a feature of her, for her tireless efforts and dedication as a matriarch to uplift society.
Lillian was a volunteer at the Aboriginal Front Door Society in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside community. She was recognized as an Indigenous woman leader by the University Women's Club of Vancouver for her work on Canada 150+ as co-chair of the City of Vancouver's Urban Aboriginal Advisory Committee.
“Lillian Howard, you will be missed, yet your lifetime of actions has sown and nurtured strong roots across the country. Your contributions – to justice, health, environment and reconciliation – will be remembered and will go on to empower and awaken minds to Indigenous peoples' rights long into the future,” said Professor Kool.
Howard’s work colleagues and the City of Vancouver held a celebration of her life in Vancouver on Nov. 22.
Lillian Howard, November 22, 1950–October 30, 2021