By Chezney Martin, with notes from Lindsay Bomberry
OHSWEKEN – Friends, family and community gathered at Six Nations Polytech this past Sunday November 15th to join local elder, educator and community advocate Mary Longboat who was celebrating a big milestone in her life – her 100th birthday.
Longboat’s legacy is expansive. At just 19 years of age, she graduated from teachers college and was ready to enter the work force. But in the mid-1930s, finding employment as an Indigenous woman was no easy task, so trails had to be blazed.
After facing discrimination from the Indian office due to her father’s efforts to reinstate the Confederacy’s power in 1934, Longboat left the reserve to work in Buffalo where she remained for 2 years. Within this time, she received a notice that she was hired as a substitute teacher back at home. As a result of the new job prospect, she chose to return to school to make the transition from handwriting to typing.
Shortly after, Longboat married her partner Carl. Married women at the time could not teach, so she poured her energy into raising 5 children and running a local grocery store.
Later on in life, she was able to return to her career as an educator. She was employed as a teacher at various Six Nations schools (#4, #2, #7, #9, #10 schools) and her hard work spoke for itself. In the 1950s, she became a School Principal. Her teaching career lasted a total of 31 years, with Longboat retiring from education when she was 58.
In addition to her work as a teacher, she also was a long-time member of the Women’s Institute of Ohsweken who in 1965 identified a need for a public library in Six Nations. Three years later in 1968, the Six Nations Public Library was officially opened and continues to operate to this day.
At the Sunday gathering, balloons floated above over 30 tables filled with guests and family, as a large table of gifts accumulated within the Grand River Room. The entire celebration was organized by close family, including Longboat’s granddaughter Lindsay Bomberry.
“There were relatives that were wondering when this was going to happen in the summertime, at the time I was actually very sick and so was my mother,” said Bomberry. “So, I knew that we would help and that somehow we would have to make this happen in a way that she [Longboat] wanted,” she said.
“I began to use social media to call out for assistance with people and get ideas of what could be done that would be more manageable for us, me, my mother and my brother,” she said, as she explained each of them provide and care for Longboat.
Bomberry shared that her grandmother is a great, great, grand-mother, an opportunity many do not get the chance to experience. She also explained that her grandmother lived on her own and drove herself up until last year.
Sean Toulouse, Bomberry’s brother and Longboat’s grandson, added that he is very proud to have his grandmother in his life.
“She’s been a teacher at the Number Seven School, and she was a principal there for many years,” said Toulouse. “A lot of people in this community come to her all the time and drop off flowers and what not, people she taught still to this day will come”, he added.
“I’m very proud that she’s lived this long, and a lot of the community looks up to her. Some people call her the Queen of the Village.”
With 9 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren, and 2 great great grandchildren also adding to her full and accomplished life, the Queen of the Village certainly has a lot to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Mary Longboat.