Chief Margaret Pictou LaBillois accomplished more than one first in her lifetime. She was the first of her Eel River Bar First Nation community to graduate high school in 1939, and the first woman to be elected chief in the New Brunswick region in 1970.
She’ll now be remembered for those “tireless efforts” as Assemnly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said in a statement.
LaBillois walked on April 19 at the Dalhousie Nursing Home in New Brunswick, Canada. She was 89.
“We have lost a respected elder, leader and a magnificent First Nations Mi’kmaq woman who will be remembered for her tremendous dedication, kindness and generosity towards her people,” Atleo went on to say in the statement.
LaBillois not only served her nation for two terms as chief, but she was also the wife of Michael LaBillois and the mother of 14 children.
“For her, home meant her people, her culture and their land. She devoted her life to all three,” says an entry about her by the Canadian War Museum.
In the time between graduating high school and serving as chief to the Eel River Bar First Nation, she was an Aircraftwoman First Class for the Royal Canadian Air Force. She was a photo-reconaissance technician who worked on mapping the Alaska Highway, which was constructed during World War II to connect Alaska to Canada and the rest of the United States.
She received the Order of Canada in 1996 in recognition of her leadership abilities, and the Order of New Brunswick in 2005 for her protection of Mi’kmaq language.
“On our reserve she brought back the culture. She went into the elementary school teaching our students here, our language and she instilled this in all of her children: what it means to us, who we are as traditional people,” Colleen Gauvin, LaBillois’ eldest daughter, told CBC News.
“Chief Margaret Pictou LaBillois was a truly remarkable leader who leaves behind a legacy that inspires all of us,” Atleo said. “Her many achievements are a source of pride and an example of the tremendous potential of our peoples.”
View a photo gallery of family images here.