WRITTEN BY KATIE INGRAM
YARMOUTH, N.S. – At 82, Yarmouth’s Mary Lou Parker is as dedicated to her community as she’s ever been – a dedication that’s received recognition from the Governor General of Canada.
“I’ll never step back,” says Parker. “As long as I have a breath in my lungs I’m going to work for my Métis.”
Parker co-founded the Eastern Woodland Métis Nation Nova Scotia with her late husband, Tim, in 1972. They did so because there weren’t many resources or support systems available to Métis in the province at the time.
“We knew we had native heritage and we wanted to make people aware and not to be ashamed of being who they are,” says Parker, who has been grand chief since her husband’s death in 2011.
Since the ’70s, the group has grown to more than 29,000 members from across the country, all of whom must have family connections to Nova Scotia. These members include Elder John Gervais, who praises Parker’s commitment.
“Even at her advanced age she continued to work tirelessly on our behalf, meeting with and lobbying ministers and senior officials at all levels of government,” says Gervais in an email statement. “We are truly blessed to have her at the helm.”
It’s because of this more than 45-year dedication, among other acts of volunteerism, that Parker has been awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
On April 28, at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 61 hall in Yarmouth, West Nova MP Colin Fraser formally presented the medal to Parker.
The award, given out by the Governor General’s office, “recognizes exceptional volunteer achievements from across the country and abroad, celebrating a wide range of voluntary contributions.”
“Mary Lou . . . strives to promote and preserve Métis identity and heritage,” said Josephine Laframboise, a communications representative with the Rideau Hall Press Office, in an email. “Her keenness in educating others on the value of the province’s Métis culture has inspired a community where individuals are continuously giving back.”
Parker has also received the Sovereign Medal in recognition of other work, including her past association with Korean Veteran Affairs Canada. Parker founded the group in the early 1990s with her husband, who served in the Korean War.
When asked why she felt she was the one to do this, Parker’s answer was similar to the one about Eastern Woodlands: It was needed.
“At one point of time they were trying to get together, so we said let’s get together and form something,” she says. “We contacted everyone and started the association.”
Additionally, her volunteer work with both the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 61 and Yarmouth cadets has been cited as reasons for the award. With the legion, she not only likes being able to help with causes they support, but she also enjoys the camaraderie.
“I like everything about it; you can be with all your friends,” she says. “They honoured me by making me a life member for my work I had done in previous years. I was very honoured to get that.”
As for the cadets, Parker has helped members go to Vimy Ridge and donated an artillery sword for formal reviews and ceremonial parades.
“I help whenever I can and when they need me,” she says.
Parker says she was shocked when told she’d be receiving the Sovereign Medal for her efforts.
“I got an email letter from Rideau Hall; I was very surprised, honoured and humbled that my work had been recognized,” she says. “I had no idea that anyone had recommended or nominated me.”
She never expected to be recognized, because volunteering and helping others is something that comes naturally.
“I don’t like to brag, but I’m just little ol’ me,” she says. “I like helping people; I’m a people person.”
Others, however, weren’t as surprised as Parker. Gervais says she deserves the award for everything she has done and continues to do.
“Chief Parker is the most passionate advocate for the rights and recognition of Métis people of Eastern Canada I have never known,” says Gervais. “She has been our voice and our collective heart for many years.”
Since the news broke, Parker has received numerous congratulations and well-wishes.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things,” she says.
Parker was previously nominated in 2013 for the Governor General’s Medal in Leadership, was awarded the Professional of the Year by Capital Who's Who in 2015 and was named 2017 Legionnaire of the Year for the Yarmouth legion.