Mary Ellen Robinson, 1927 — 2012

Saint Mary's University Gorsebrook Research Institute/Dr. Trudy Sable.

Leading by Example

There are more than a few Nova Scotians who do not make headlines, yet who still make important contributions. Ellen Robinson is a wonderful example. In countless, unpublicized ways, this Mi'kmaw Elder lived a life filled with kindness and thoughtfulness on behalf of her family, friends and community. Nothing filled her with more joy or pride than being a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, as well as the beloved godmother of several hundred children in other families. She loved helping others, especially young people.

Mary Ellen Lewis was born in Bear River. In 1947, Mary Ellen married Peter Robinson, a Mi’kmaq man who did not have Indian Status under the Indian Act. Under the Indian Act, Indigenous men could marry non-native women and retain their Indian status, but an Indigenous woman lost her Indian status if she married a non- Indian. Peter's mother was Mi’kmaq but she lost her Indian status when she married Peters’ father, a non-Indian. Thus, when Ellen married Peter, because he was a Mi’kmaq with no Indian status, she also lost her status. Ellen Robinson fought that injustice for decades, and eventually in 1985 saw the federal government correct the double standard by returning Indian status to thousands of women like Ellen across the land. One of Ellen's accomplishments along her journey was to help found the Native Council of Nova Scotia. It was (and still is) a great help to Mi'kmaq living away from their home communities. And that's not all Ellen did. She also was a regular volunteer at the Shubenacadie Court House, helping youth stay out of trouble. Her favourite advice was for the young people to take better care of themselves. Besides raising her own family of five, Ellen worked at the Shubenacadie Residential School, where she comforted many a homesick and distraught child.

In 2009, Ellen Robinson received a medal for her years of community work from the Congress of Aboriginal People. In 2010, the Premier of Nova Scotia recognized her status as a respected Elder with an award.