By Nicole Feriancek
THE DIGBY COURIER
They serve their community, volunteer their time and are helping create the Canada we know today.
On Thursday, 56 people received tangible recognition: the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Senator Gerald Comeau and Member of Parliament Greg Kerr awarded the medals at a ceremony in Cornwallis on Thursday. Coming from all over the West Nova Area, from Shelburne to Cambridge, the medal recipients were honoured for the impact they’ve made on the lives of others in their communities.
The jubilee program gave a total of 60,000 people across Canada the award, says MP Greg Kerr. About five thousand were Nova Scotians.
One such medal recipient is Elsie Basque.
“I’ve had an interesting life, let’s put it that way,” she says.
“I’m a Mi’kmaq Indian and was the first Mi’kmaq person to get a teachers licence and teach in a non native school.”
Basque, 96, sits in a wheelchair after the ceremony. A handful of other award winners line up to shake her hand and say hello.
It seems everyone knows her, and respects how she has broken barriers in her life and worked to protect her Mi’kmaq heritage.
Born in Digby County, as Elsie Charles, she completed high school, went to Truro for college, and then taught her first class in Mabou Ridge, Inverness County in the 1930’s. She later went on to teach at a native school in Indian Brook, and then moved to the United States.
Basque returned home, to Saulnierville, in 1984.
Two years ago, she was inducted into the Order of Canada.
But that’s not what she wants to talk about. Before all the schooling, the groundbreaking teaching job and the recognition, Basque spent two years at the Shubenacadie Residential School.
“When I left home, I was only in the eighth grade. For two years, four months and six days, I was at the residential school. Instead of studying, we got up at five in the morning to do laundry, on a washboard by hand. I never saw my books again.”
Bernice d’Entremont is another medal winner. She stops and says a warm hello to Elsie Basque. Several years ago, Basque visited the Musée des Acadiens, where d’Entremont has worked and volunteered for the last 15 years.
D’Entremont says the award was quite a surprise, but that she is proud to show off her Acadian heritage whenever she has the chance.
“Working with the community, helping with cultural festivals and music, trying to keep your culture alive; that’s the richest part of my life.”
MP Greg Kerr said the event went smoothly. “The whole point of this is there are so many people in our communities who don’t get recognition for lifelong volunteering, this is a way to say thank you. This is their communities saying thank you.”