Battiste began her studies at the University of Maine at Presque Isle before finishing her undergrad degree in education at the University of Maine Farmington
Four of them, including an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Farmington
Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship, Eagle Feather bestowed by the Mi’kmaq Grand Council
Marie Battiste’s education and career have taken her all across the continent — to Harvard, for a master’s degree in 1974; to Stanford University, in California, where she became the first Mi’kmaw woman to achieve a doctorate; to her family home of Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where, as an educator, she pioneered indigenous curricula; and to Saskatchewan, where she’s been on the University of Saskatchewan faculty for 27 years and where, last year, she received the prestigious Order of Canada — the nation’s highest civilian honor — for her scholarship and activism decolonizing education and preserving indigenous languages and knowledge.
Before any of that, though, Battiste was an Aroostook County kid learning to swim in the chilly waters of Nickerson Lake, southwest of Houlton.
“We’d be standing there at 8:30 in the morning, having to get in this water,” the 70-year-old professor remembers, “and it was ridiculous — who in their right mind would get up and do this? But my mother said, nope, you’re going to drown otherwise.”
Battiste’s parents came to Maine from Nova Scotia to work the potato and blueberry harvests, then stayed to raise a family. They were living in Linneus in 1951 when a house fire destroyed nearly everything they had, and for a year-and-a-half afterwards, they lived in a cottage on Nickerson Lake, donated by another family. It’s the site of some of Battiste’s earliest memories.
The Mi’kmaq in Maine weren’t yet federally recognized (Battiste’s brother would help to establish the Aroostook Band of Micmacs in 1991), but after the Battistes moved to Houlton, they became sort of an ad hoc welcoming committee for Mi’kmaw families coming into the state. “My family lived right on Military Street, and there was no highway yet, so anybody who came across the border went by,” Battiste remembers. “My parents were known as who you’d stop and see. They’d offer food, coffee, whatever was needed. Sometimes I lost my clothing to somebody who’d come through and didn’t have anything. My mother was one of these people who said ‘You give away a dime, it’ll always come back.’”
Eventually, Battiste appreciated her mom’s mandated swimming lessons, as Nickerson Lake became the site of family outings, weekends at friends’ camps, and high-school grad parties. “It was a very significant place all through our growing up,” Battiste says. And the lakes in Saskatchewan, it turns out, are no warmer.