Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas, Neskonlith Band, Sushwap

"But there came a time when our whole life system changed..."

Mary Thomas, was an Elder who has used her skills and experience to help anyone to wanted her knowledge in health. She believed that by first maintaining our own internal balance and well being, would our natural world be in balance. She has also been called a builder who understands the crucial importance of strong foundations.

Early in life she harnessed her knowledge of medicines and healing and worked hard to make a difference. While her life was not without pain, struggle and self-destruction, she felt it only helped her grow as human being. As she began to really see the environmental changes the earth is now facing, Mary helped found the Salmon River Watershed restoration project and worked to create the Ecocultural Centre at Salmon Arm, B.C.

Over a lifetime, Mary has educated young and old about the need for conservation, preservation and environmental awareness and the relevance of the traditional ways in preserving the health of the land and its peoples. In the 1970s, she founded the Central Okanagan Interior Friendship Centre so Aboriginal harvesters could access support. She also oversaw the coordination and building of a "kekuli," or traditional winter house for a local museum.

A decade later, the Smithsonian Institution asked her to repeat this feat for one of their collections. With the help of her sons, she did just that. She has used her traditional knowledge to document traditional Secwepemc plant knowledge. In 2000, she received an honourary doctorate from the University of Victoria and in 1997, she became the first Aboriginal person in North America to receive the Indigenous Conservationist of the Year award from the Seacology Foundation. In 2001, she was a National Aboriginal Achievement Award recipient in the category of Environment.

Sadly, Mary Thomas passed away in 2007 before we could conduct any more interviews with her, she is missed by her family, friends and many, many others whose lives she still influences.


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