Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas has been likened to an old growth tree. An Elder who has used her skills and experience to help us all keep our health balanced, she has also been called a builder and the type of builder who understands the crucial importance of strong foundations. She is all of these things and so much more. Now in her 80s, this environmentalist and educator shows few signs of slowing down. Early in life she harnessed her knowledge of medicines and healing and strove to make a difference. Fearful of the environmental changes she was witnessing, Thomas helped found the Salmon River Watershed restoration project and has worked to create the Ecocultural Centre at Salmon Arm, B.C. Over a lifetime, Thomas 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 venerable Smithsonian Institution asked her to repeat this feat for one of their collections. With the help of her sons, she did just that. Over the last ten years, she has been using 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 in North America to receive the Indigenous Conservationist of the Year award from the Seacology Foundation.