Caroline Marshall-Hobbs died on Christmas Eve at the age of 86 in Sydney, N.S.
She was the mother of the late Donald Marshall Jr., whose wrongful conviction as a 17-year-old for a murder he didn't commit brought scrutiny to Nova Scotia's justice system.
Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Aboriginal Women's Association, says Marshall-Hobbs will be remembered for her quiet strength during her son's 11-year incarceration and for the support she provided to her husband Donald Marshall Sr., who served as grand chief for almost three decades.
"She carried that dignity, that class through some of the most horrific times that a mother could imagine," she said.
"Her and her husband, the grand chief, they carried the nation."
Maloney says Marshall-Hobbs assisted her husband as they lobbied for improved Mi'kmaq rights when funding for aboriginal groups was much lower.
"They led when we had nothing," she said. "She was a matriarch not just by her husband's side but by the nation's side."
"They went to all the wakes. They went to all the communities and they led with such class at a time her own son was incarcerated."
As leaders in the community of Membertou, the Marshall family was often expected to provide food and assistance to the less fortunate. Maloney said it was a role that Marshall-Hobbs embraced, welcoming visitors from distant communities along with neighbours seeking help.
Maloney said Marshall-Hobbs will also be remembered as a woman of faith who maintained and encouraged the Mi'kmaq language and the traditional arts, such as basket making.
"There's a strength and leadership with our women. But it's a quiet strength. It's a quiet leadership and she portrays it beautifully," she said.
Her obituary says Marshall-Hobbs was recipient of the Membertou Citizen of the Year Award and the Atlantic Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award.
Maloney said Marshall-Hobbs helped guide Donald Marshall Jr. when he launched a legal challenge after being charged in 1993 with fishing eels out of season. The resulting Supreme Court of Canada decision in his favour found that the Mi'kmaq have the right to harvest and sell fish to sustain a moderate livelihood for their families.
Marshall-Hobbs's obituary says she had 36 grandchildren, 43 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
— By Michael Tutton in Halifax
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