Through drumming, dancing and recollections, the community paid respects and said goodbye to ‘Auntie Ellen.’
Ellen White, Kwulasulwut, died Tuesday at age 95, and her funeral was held Saturday morning at the Beban Park Social Centre.
White was a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and her obituary remembers her as an “educator, cultural knowledge keeper, author, linguist, herbalist, healer, traditional midwife, and political activist and advocate.”
She was one of the founders of the Tillicum Haus Aboriginal Friendship Centre and was an elder-in-residence in Vancouver Island University’s First Nations studies program.
“She possessed a pure, kind and radiant heart,” said Les Malbon, who described himself as one of White’s adopted grandchildren as he delivered her eulogy Saturday.
White’s name, Kwulasulwut, translates to ‘many stars’ and Malbon alluded to that as he addressed the people gathered in the social centre.
“I look out now and I see the many stars,” he said. “I see how she impacted the community. I see how much she loved her family and I appreciated, personally, how much that love changed me and how it’s changed all of us to be better people and behoove us to be kind to one another and to work towards a world of unity.”
Malbon said the White home was always filled with visitors, and Ellen White also travelled to meet people and share knowledge, and she would say that she had a coat with many pockets in which she collected pearls of wisdom that would be there when she needed them.
White was born in 1922. According to her obituary, as a child she lived on Rice Island (now Norway Island) and Kuper Island (now Penelakut Island), avoiding residential school because her family had roots on the U.S. side of the border and so she didn’t have Canadian Indian Status.
She was immersed in Coast Salish traditional teachings and learned ceremony, healing and midwifery.
She and her husband, Chief Doug White, raised five children in Nanaimo.
Ellen White worked on an historic 1965 Supreme Court of Canada case around treaty rights and took action to get electricity to Snuneymuxw reserve land. She created one of the first English-Hulquminum dictionaries, then wrote three books of Coast Salish stories in English, and also taught language to indigenous and non-indigenous students from elementary school all the way up to post-secondary. Before her inductions into the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada, White was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by VIU.
“She believed in universal human rights of all people,” Malbon said. “She believed in economic justice and the family still fights for that today. And perhaps the most powerful, she believed in a culture of peace among everyone.”
In a statement, Ellen White’s son, Snuneymuxw Coun. Doug White II, said his mother lived a remarkable life. He said his mother would have wanted people remembering her and celebrating her life to reflect on how to advance knowledge, understanding, respect and reconciliation among indigenous and non-indigenous people.
“Her enduring lesson to all of us was to recognize and appreciate what we have in common as human beings, to celebrate the beauty of our diversity, and to illuminate the foundations of unity and mutuality and respect between all of us,” he said. “We can all honour her memory by carrying on her work of close to a century of cultivating love, learning, respect and harmony in human relations.”
Ellen White is survived by a brother, five children, 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.