by Belle Hatfield, THE VANGUARD www.thevanguard.ca
“Welcome to the Yarmouth campus of Acadia University,” said the university’s president, Ray Ivany, as he stood in the lobby of the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. It was Monday afternoon, May 6, and he was part of a delegation there to welcome a boisterous crowd gathered to witness a special convocation ceremony, complete with Mi’kmaq chants, drums and prayers.
Mi’kmaq Elder Elsie Charles-Basque, an inpatient at the hospital, received an Honourary Doctorate in Humanities from Acadia University during the special ceremony. It was videotaped and broadcast at the Acadia convocation this past weekend in Wolfville.
Basque is a well-respected Elder of the Mi’kmaw nation. As an educator and volunteer, she has served as a role model and a champion of Mi’kmaw values and traditions, and has taught several generations of young people. That respect was evident Monday afternoon as, one after another, chiefs and representatives from bands across the province stooped to greet the 96 year-old former teacher in her wheelchair. They offered flowers and eagle feathers, but mostly heartfelt best wishes.
Basque was born in 1916 and was the first Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia to hold a teacher’s licence and the first Mi’kmaq to teach in a non-native school.
Ivany said it was his great privilege a few months ago to telephone her with the invitation to accept an honorary doctorate.
“This is a very proud and public statement that will link Elsie and the university forever … and I think I was crying before she was,” he said in commenting on her humility and grace in accepting the honorary doctorate.
Ivany said the initial recommendation came, in part, from Acadia students who have been touched by their work with the Mi’kmaw Elder.
“What would the world be like without pioneers like Elsie,” said Laura Thompson, of the school’s education department, in reading her citation.
She spent most of her life in Boston, MA, lecturing on native issues, Mi’kmaw culture and the status of American native people. A Saulnierville resident, she has received two honorary doctorate degrees of education and is a member of the Order of Canada (C.M.).
Also honoured at Saturday’s convocation in Wolfville was author Harry Thurston. who received a Doctor of Literature.
The Yarmouth County native received a Doctor of Literature. Thurston is a prolific author and dedicated environmentalist. He has published 20 books of poetry and non-fiction and been a contributor to numerous North American magazines specializing in environmental issues and natural history. He is a four-time winner of the Evelyn Richardson Prize for the best non-fiction book by a Nova Scotian and has also received the Dartmouth Book Award and Atlantic Booksellers’ Choice Award for Tidal Life, A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy. A Place Between the Tides, A Naturalist’s Reflections on the Salt Marsh, was a finalist for the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize and winner of the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award in the U.S. His last book, The Atlantic Coast, A Natural History, received the 2011 Lane Anderson Award for best science book in Canada. Thurston is married to former Yarmouth resident Kathy Rideout, and his mother Betty Surette still lives here.Tags: A Natural History, A Natural History of the Bay of Fundy, A Naturalist’s Reflections on the Salt Marsh, A Place Between the Tides, Acadia University, Alex MacDonald, Atlantic Booksellers’ Choice Award, Belle Hatfield, Betty Surette, Boston, Dartmouth Book Award, Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, Elsie Charles-Basque, Evelyn Richardson Prize, Harry Thurston, indian brook, Kathy Rideout, Lane Anderson Award, Laura Thompson, Order of Canada, Ray Ivany, Saulnierville, Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, The Atlantic Coast, The Vanguard, Tidal Life, Wolfville, Yarmouth, Yarmouth Regional Hospital