Malaspina's Elder-in-Residence Ellen White leaves lasting legacy

October 12, 2007 - 9:15am

Coast Salish Elder Ellen White, also known as “Auntie Ellen” by students, staff and faculty at Malaspina University-College, officially retired after 13 years as Elder-in-Residence, but her legacy will on forever.

White’s many years of service, dedication and commitment to Malaspina and its students was celebrated at a special gathering at the Nanaimo campus Thursday, October 11.

“Ellen White is indeed a treasure,” said Steve Lane, Dean, Arts & Humanities. “We recognize Auntie Ellen for her contributions to the Arts One First Nations Studies department, and to Aboriginal education as a whole at Malaspina. She has touched the lives of many students, as well as faculty and staff.”

Now in her 80s, White is widely known in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities for her dedication to traditional ways, and her dedication to education as an important element in social change and community-building.

White, also known by her Coast Salish name, Kwulasulwut, is deeply learned in the traditional ways of the Coast Salish people in language, stories, dance, herbal medicine, midwifery and beyond. She has worked tirelessly to pass along the teachings to others, including students in Malaspina’s First Nations program, which she helped establish in 1994.

White was an early leader in cross-cultural contributions, working to bridge the gaps between the Snuneymuxw First Nation and the City of Nanaimo. She was a social activist, working to establish schools closer to the reserve, and substance abuse rehabilitation facilities. For many years, she worked in the local school system to bring cultural education to non-native students through dance, stories, foods and lectures. She has also published books of Coast Salish stories in English, providing an accessible medium of connection between cultures.

White received formal training both within her culture and within a post-secondary setting “but always belonged to Malaspina,” said Ray Peters, also an Elder-in-Residence at Malaspina.

In 2006, White received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Malaspina recognizing her outstanding contribution, her commitment to students and her exemplary record of community service over 60 years.

Lane said he first met White when he became Dean two years ago. “She taught me many things,” he said.  “Ellen embodies everything that is good about cross-cultural education. She has said ‘we must go forth with both hands full: one filled with traditional knowledge, and the other filled with the white man’s knowledge.’ I believe this to be true, and to be true for all people, whether they are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, Christian or Muslim, male or female.”

Dr. Patrick Ross, Malaspina’s Vice President, Student Services, also thanked White for her outstanding contributions and for the “significant difference” she’s made in the lives of everyone who had the privilege of meeting and working with her.

“Ellen has always been a champion for students, families and the communities she served,” he said. “Through Auntie Ellen, I’ve learned the meaning of the words respect, integrity, wisdom, trust, tradition and culture.”

Dan MacDonald, an instructor in Malaspina’s Arts One First Nations program, said White will never be forgotten for her “warm, motherly and comforting” approach to students and faculty. MacDonald also acknowledged White’s family for “generously sharing their mother with the entire campus community for so many years.”

Krissie Prince, a second-year student in Malaspina’s Arts One First Nations program, said she admired the way White openly shared her stories in the classroom. “She could make the textbooks come alive,” said Prince. “She’s loving, generous and wise,” said Prince. “Auntie Ellen taught me about respect. She’s a true inspiration for all of us.”

Tags: In the Community

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