Remembering Helen Martin and her compassion for children and families:
Courtesy of Native Women's Association

As one of the co-founders of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association in 1972, Helen Martin's name is synonymous with the provincial association. But, Helen Martin was more than that. She was a walking encyclopedia of historical facts on Mi'kmaw religion, history and Mi'kmaw culture in general.
Helen was born on November 4, 1921 on the old King's Road reserve in Sydney to Ben and Jane (Denny) Christmas. Twelve children were born to the Christmas'.

Helen-MartinHelen married Max Basque of Picture Landing and lived there for four years. After his death and most of her adult life, she lived in Membertou.
Helen had to overcome a lot of hardships in her life, especially with regard to her health. As a toddler, she developed a bone disease and had to be hospitalized in the Children's Hospital in Halifax for about 10 years. While in the hospital she was tutored by the doctors and nurses, so this was where she received her early education.

Helen enjoyed telling how she was cured by the old Mi'kmaw medicine man from her reserve after the doctors had given up hope and were ready to cut off both her arms. The medicine man told her father to get her from the hospital and he would see if he could cure her. He was able to cure her in six weeks, but to this day no one knows what he used.

Helen was very proud of the accomplishments of her father, Chief Ben E. Christmas and the work he had done for the Mi'kmaw people. She gathered a wealth of information over the years and had hoped someday to write a book.

The Nova Scotia Native Women's Association is a living monument to Helen Martin's hard work and dedication. She often recalled that when the association was being formed time were tough and it wasn't uncommon for the provincial president to hitchhike to meetings. But she did get there, and she made her views known in getting fair and just treatment for women.

Helen served server terms as the provincial President and was a board member for the Native Women's Association of Canada. She also served on the board of the Mi'kmaw Family & Children's Services, another organization she was instrumental in getting started.

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to her community, Helen was presented with the Women of the Year Award in 1975 by then Premier Gerald Regan, and then in 1978, the province presented her another award for Voluntary Service on behalf of the community. In her home community of Membertou, she was honoured with the Life-Long Community Service Award.

Of this award she said, "I accept the awards on behalf of native women. I can understand and share your achievements, concerns and aspirations. Without your help, I wouldn't have made it."

Helen Martin made a difference in the lives of Mi'kmaw women. As women we lost a true champion of our rights when she passed away in 1994.

Milestones in the agencies development:

  • In 1963 as the Residential Schools across the country are beginning to close down, the Indian Affairs enters into bi-lateral agreements with the provinces to deliver child welfare services on Reserves.
  • What follows is referred to as the "Baby Scoop" as First Nation children were removed from their communities and placed usually off reserves and in non-native homes.
  • In the mid 1970's Helen Martin, founding President of the NS Native Women's Association, begins to become concerned as First Nation youth who were brought up in foster and adoptive homes begin to try to find out who they are and why they were taken away. She begins talks, especially with John Knockwood of Indian Brook.
  • The Native Women's Association receive funding from Secretary of State to do research and they identify five areas of concern:
    1) the lack of research training in the Reserve Community
    2) the need for child welfare committees in the Reserve Community
    3)The need for special training in the area of Indian Child Welfare
    4) the need to look at Children's Aid Society policies as they pertain to natives.
    5)the need for Native peoples to take over the whole child welfare programs, and to do the work currently done by the province (NSNWA 1981, pg 1)
  • The Association took their concerns to the Annual General Meeting of the Union of NS Indians in 1981 and the motion brought by Helen Martin and Ethel Lewis which directed the Union to address these issues was passed unanimously
  • Noel Doucette, President of the U.N.S.I talks to Fred Wein, Director of the Maritime School of Social Work. They assemble a team to begin consultations and to seek funding for broader discussions.
  • From June 22-25 1982, 60 delegates from across the country and the community gather at Liscombe Lodge to develop the blueprint which led to a specialized training program that became the Mi'kmaw BSW Program and the Mi'kmaw Agency, along with the host of other initiatives, including Ulnoowg Development. Committees are formed including the agencies interim board and massive consultation and negot8ioations for funding and authorities begin.
  • Murray Manzer is hired as Coordinator.
  • September 1994, the first students begin studies in BSW.
  • July 5 1985, the agency signs its first agreement.
  • August 1985, the interim board approves the first Constitution & By-Laws and Joan Glode drives around the provinces getting signatures.
  • August 1985, the first staffs are hired and students begin BSW classes in September.
  • Oct 21 1985, Nova Scotia approves the Constitution & By-Laws and approves the formation of the Micmac Family & Children's Services. The planning committee/interim Board becomes officially the first board of the agency. The executive of the first board were: Peter Stevens, President; Alan Bernard, Vice-president; Deborah Maloney, Secretary; Clara Gloade, Treasurer. Board members were: Ruth Christmas, Joseph h. Denny, Raymond Francis, Gregory U. Johnson, Lillian Marshall, Barry Martin, Helen Martin, Rose Morris, George Paul, Elizabeth Pictou, Kerry Prospect, Chief Rita Smith and Regina Toney. These individuals shaped the agencies policies and direction.
  • The agencies first Subsidiary Agreement is ratified by Canada on December 10, 1985, allowing the agency to receive funding.
  • December 1985, the first cheque arrives and staffs get paid for the first time, the week before Christmas.
  • November 19 1987, due to mounting frustration with Indian Affairs failing to meet with the voluntary community bases board, a motion is passed to transfer the authority of the Board of the Chiefs of Nova Scotia
  • February 1988, the Chiefs become the board and subsequently the Constitution & By-Laws are amended to formalize the new structure and provide a seat for the NS Native Women's Association.
  • October 1988, the province transfers all of our children in the permanent care and custody of the agency.
  • May 15 1990, enough students receive their BSW to assume all mandated services from the province.
  • March 13 1993, The Waycobah Family Treatment Centre opens.
  • June 4 1994, the Millbrook Family Treatment Centre opens