Mavis Gillie, founding member of Aboriginal Neighbours, presented the degree Doctor of Laws at UVic for her tireless commitment to the cause of justice for First Nations Peoples. This is article below is printed with permission or John McClaren.
LL.D Citation for Mavis Marie Gillie
Madam Chancellor, It is my privilege to present to you Mavis Marie Gillie. Mavis is the very epitome of the concerned and active citizen, committed to the cause of justice and tireless in her efforts to achieve it – a passionate volunteer who serves as a conscience for society.
Mavis was born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in a close and caring Anglo-Canadian family. Alongside her school work and family life, she was active in the local Anglican church, and speaks fondly of the friendship and the sharing of faith that she experienced in the Anglican Young Peoples Association.
The sense of community and the importance of faith that these early experiences engendered was to take on added significance when Mavis went in the late 1960s with her husband, Bernard, to Fort Smith, NWT, where he had been appointed Superintendent of Education. In that environment she made it her business to reach out to, interact with, and understand the aspirations and frustrations of the local First Nations communities. Moreover, she actively used her talents and energies to support them, and to help the non-Aboriginal community to understand the reasons for their desire to receive justice and equal treatment. Mavis’s early friendship with the Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s north convinced her of two things: first of all that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples had suffered grave injustices at the hands of the newcomers to this country over a long period of time; secondly, that there needed to be healing and reconciliation between the two communities, and that this would happen only if strong bridges were built by people of vision and goodwill.
Mavis carried these convictions with her when she returned to southern Canada and settled in Victoria in the 1970s. Since that time she has been in the forefront of seeking justice for First Nations by working with them, and with others in the non-Aboriginal community who share her commitment, or have been persuaded by the truth and integrity of her message. She has done this by her advocacy in the Anglican Church of Canada through its Public and Social Responsibility Unit and the parishes in which she has worshipped, through ecumenical organizations such as Project North and Aboriginal Neighbours (in both of which she was a founding member and chair), and at every opportunity in the community at large. She has appeared before commissions of inquiry, royal commissions, and legislative committees. She has organized conferences, and supported First Nations initiatives in seeking understanding and redress. She has never been shy about drawing upon the knowledge of her friends in the Aboriginal communities and in the academy, and at the same time, has never shrunk from addressing and challenging those who would rather not listen, whether by participating in peaceful protest, seeking to hold ministers of the Crown, legislators and public servants to account, and criticizing in person the harmful activities of corporations. Mavis has been clear about the need to challenge injustice and insensitivity firmly wherever they are found, in government, church and business policies, in uncaring community attitudes and individual biases, as well as widespread apathy in society.
Her solidarity with the Dene, the Nisga’a and the Gitxsan and Wetsuwet’en, as well as with the Coast Salish Nations is legendary. Eloquent proof of the affection and respect in which she is held is the statement in support of this nomination by Mavis Underwood of the Tsaout First Nation:
What is most precious to me about Mavis Gillie is that she has such perseverance and intellect that most politicians cannot discount what she has to say. Her influence over the years has been incredible as she coaxed the settler population to reflect on how they live in B.C. in relation to First Nations . . . . there is still a long way to go in achieving Aboriginal justice but Mavis . . . would agree that she is not finished yet. She is indeed a great force of nature who cannot sit idly by.
And it is true. Although of venerable age, Mavis has been involved in the ongoing task of opening people’s minds to her message of healing and reconciliation. As has always been true of her, this is done unconditionally, in a spirit of love and caring and always with a warm wit and winning smile. She is one who embodies those prophetic and deeply human qualities that help to waken and move a slumbering world.
I speak today with the benefit of a Talking Stick. Usually the stick is on display in the Diana Priestly Law Library of U Vic. Carved by Ron Sebastian of the Gitxsan Nation the stick was originally presented to the non-Aboriginal supporters of the struggle of the Gitxsan and Wetsuwet’en nations for justice through the courts in the Delgamuuk case that was highlighted in the 1330 km Run for Justice from Hazelton to Victoria in 1988. Through Mavis’s efforts the stick was discovered in storage and with the approval of the Gitxsan Nation and their supporters was lodged in the Law School as a mark of respect for its support of First Nations aspirations. It serves as a reminder to students of the soil upon which they tread and the ongoing need for justice and reconciliation.
As this citation came off the press we heard that Governor General David Johnson had included Mavis among the recipients of the Award for Caring Canadians for 1916, another cap to her remarkable record of service and devotion to the cause of justice.
Is is not always appreciated that these citations are collaborative efforts. I want to recognize the inspiration I received from the wonderful letters of nomination and support for Mavis, not least from my friend and colleague, Hamar Foster
Madame Chancellor, it is my privilege, indeed joy, to present for the degree Doctor of Laws honoris causa Mavis Marie Gillie.
To read more about Mavis’ remarkable calling and courage see Times Colonist: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/for-first-nation-advocate-mavis-gillie-daffodils-opened-doors-1.2194579