POTLOTEK: The community of Potlotek First Nation has lost a well-loved elder and tradition bearer this month.
Lillian Beatrice Marshall, known as a strong advocate for Mi’kmaq language and culture, has passed away at the age of 83.
“Lillian was a go-getter, but she was humble and kind,” said Mary-Ellen Googoo, elder in residence at Cape Breton University.
The two women were second cousins and long-time friends, and served together on the Elders’ Advisory Council for the Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre.
“She did a lot of work on that elders committee sharing her knowledge of the past and what she learned from her own parents,” said Googoo.
Googoo added that Marshall’s parents, Noel Marshall, who served as Captain with the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, and Annie Tena Marshall, were both knowledgeable about Mi’kmaw culture.
Marshall was lifelong learner and held degrees from several Nova Scotian universities. Most recently, she graduated from Cape Breton University in 2007. She was also an avid researcher, and worked to gather and record information on Mi’kmaq language and stories from her elders.
“She was thirsty for knowledge always in her life,” said Googoo. “She had a good memory and she was amazing in terms of sharing and telling stories about what happened long ago.”
Marshall served as prayer leader for Potlotek First Nation and worked with the Potlotek Band Council for over 40 years. She sat on the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources Elder Advisory Council and was an active member of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council.
Marshall worked in many capacities promote aboriginal education. She was a fluent speaker of Mi’kmaq and worked to bring the language into the schools. She wrote books, and developed learning materials to help teach Mi’kmaq to others. She co-authored the book Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters, a re-telling of a Mi’kmaw story about the stars in the night sky.
Wilbert Marshall, Chief of Potlotek First Nation said she left behind a strong cultural legacy that will continue to be felt in the community. She was responsible for reviving many important cultural traditions, including the annual Midwinter Feast.
“At the end of the season, the hunters will bring all their game and the ladies or the volunteers will cook it all up and we have a big feast,” said Marshall.
“It’s working its way into other communities and they’re doing it now also. That’s what she wanted.”
She was also known as a local historian and played a role in returning a historic French altar to the community after it had been kept in nearby Johnstown for well over 100 years.
Marshall says he will remember the elder as a trusted advisor.
“Anytime I was stuck on something I would go ask her, because that is what you do, you go and ask some of the elders,” he said.
Rod Googoo, chief of We’koqma’q First Nation came to know Marshall over the years due to her involvement in Mi’kmaw culture. He said she taught not only the Mi’kmaw people, but others as well.
“She did a lot of work that was behind the scenes, but she had so much pride in our culture, in our language, and our traditions,” said Googoo. “Not only was she a credit to the Mi’kmaw race, but she was a credit to the human race,” he said.