Among the Mi’kmaq elder’s many accomplishments was being a driving force behind challenging the federal government on aboriginal rights in the Supreme Court of Canada.
On Thursday, the respected resident of Flat Bay became an honorary doctor of laws at the convocation for graduates of Grenfell Campus, Memorial University in Corner Brook.
He may have left school at a young age, but White told the graduates he had already learned a lot of important life lessons from his Mi’kmaq grandfather, his own father and his uncles. More importantly, he said he has never stopped learning just because he was no longer in a formal educational setting.
“Education is not only what you acquire in the classroom,” he said. “It can be acquired in the home, in the community. It’s out there. It’s everywhere. You have to keep searching. You have to keep looking. You have to become lifelong learners.”
White urged them to try and keep a connection with everyone they meet and associate with because someday their help might be needed.
It was fostering his own relationships with the academic world that helped White develop the confidence needed to take on the federal government.
“A (person with only) Grade 7 could not go before the federal court of Canada to challenge aboriginal rights unless there was some academic support behind it,” he noted.
White’s address was also a call to challenge all institutions, not just the world of academia, to help further the cause of aboriginal rights.
He said the department of education should develop curriculum for students still in the elementary to high school levels so they can read more about aboriginal history.
Aboriginal people themselves have a huge role to play in the preservation of their own culture and must be proactive in ensuring it is kept alive, said White. The language and the oral history that cannot be found in any textbook has to be preserved before it disappears, he cautioned.
“The people my age: we have more to share,” he said. “We have stories about what it’s like to live in an aboriginal community, to grow up with the philosophy and the culture.”
Who is Calvin White?
Born and raised in Flat Bay, Calvin White is a Mi’kmaq elder and one of the founders of the aboriginal revival in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the 1960s, he helped organize aboriginal families to form the Native Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, which would later become the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI).
He was one of the original FNI petitioners that challenged the Government of Canada in court, a process that eventually led to the establishment of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
White helped organize the first aboriginal powwow in Bay St. George, which has since become one of the largest events of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
He received the Commemorative Medal for the 125th anniversary of Confederation of Canada in 1993 and the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015. He was also honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award from the Ulnooweg Development Group in 2008.
Source: Memorial University of Newfoundland