It is with sadness that we write to members, friends and supporters of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples about the sudden passing of a very dear long-time supporter and fighter for the rights of Aboriginal Men and Women who were and had been forgotten by policies and practices and by Acts of the Federal Government – the Indian Act.
Ellen Robinson was born March 29th, 1927, with Mi’kmaq and Mohawk lineage, and always referred to herself as the 150% Indian. On May 16th, 2012, we lost a dear friend, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, god mother. Ellen was many wonderful things to each of us and she will be truly missed.
Ellen was raised by her grandmother and grandfather with extended family in Bear River, Digby, Nova Scotia. Ellen as a youth loved the water and could be seen swimming in the waters which opened up to the Bay of Fundy. Ellen swam with the porpoises when they were plentiful. Her grandfather was one of the last porpoise harvesters who would harvest porpoise and then render the porpoise for its porpoise oil which he would sell to local merchants. The oil was used extensively in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s for fine machinery until it was replaced with synthetic oils.
Dr. Layton featured Ellen, her grandfather and the family in a National Film Board short known as Porpoise Oil – 1936.
Ellen, throughout her life, regardless of the obstacles moved on with courage and fortitude and the smile.
Ellen recalls vividly the time in late 1949/early 1950 when the whole community and family was routed out of Bear River, put on train to Windsor Junction, and from Windsor Junction, forced to walk to Shubenacadie – a long trek for children and Elders. This was part of the Great Centralization experiment of the department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Ellen recalls when she and her husband, Peter, worked at the residential school in Shubenacadie. Because they lived outside the reserve, they were denied medical services or the help of a doctor when she gave birth to her eldest son, now pre-deceased.
Ellen was a founding member of the Native Council of Nova Scotia (NCNS) in 1973, and one of the key organizing forces to establish Zone 2 of, the then-Non-Status and Métis Association of Nova
Ellen attended all NCNS Annual General Assemblies (AGA), including the most recent year, and all but one Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (formerly Native Council of Canada) AGAs.
Ellen was made an honorary Elder with a permanent seat at the Native Council of Nova Scotia Board of Directors and Assembly.
In 2009, Ellen Robinson was awarded the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples’ Aboriginal Order of Canada Award for her lifelong dedication to fighting for the righteousness, the dignity, the worth, the merit and the capacity of an Aboriginal Person with birthrights, regardless of what the Indian Act said or attempted to deny.
In 2010, on Treaty Day, Ellen was the recipient of the Honorary Elder Award from the Premier of Nova Scotia.
Ellen, in later years, spent one-day a week at the local courthouse working with the judge to explain or provide background about Aboriginal Youth who came in contact and conflict with the law. She worked with the Youth to help them find their way back home and to stay out of trouble.
Ellen’s twinkle of the eye and the way she shyly covered her mouth as she smiled, spoke volumes of her humility and kindness to all around her, yet within her she exhibited the need to sometimes be feisty and outspoken, particularly when it involved an Aboriginal mother, child or family when demeaned, discounted.
Ellen helped the Native Council of Nova Scotia go forward to a better future and indeed, as the 150% Indian, no one will ever forget her courage, nor forget her contributions to our collective effort to be part of the federation of the peoples of Canada as Aboriginal Peoples – the First Peoples on the great homelands of the Aboriginal Nations of Peoples from Coast to Coast to Coast.