Uphold Truth and Reconciliation

Elder Margaret retires from SFU, named honorary degree recipient

June 19, 2024

Elder Margaret George has been a member of the SFU community for more than 20 years. She has been instrumental to many Indigenous initiatives at the university, including launching the Elders program and opening countless university ceremonies.

As she prepares to be acknowledged with an honorary degree at SFU’s June 2024 convocation, we share remarks from her retirement celebration, as colleagues from Elder Margaret’s long and diverse career pay tribute to her warmth, kindness, wit and legacy.

Chief Jennifer Thomas, səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation)

I grew up next door to Aunty Margaret, she was my second mom. As a child, I would run to her place when I got in trouble at home–she holds a special place in my heart. She does an amazing job at what she does, and being who she is. She doesn’t even have to try, she’s just that person. I wish Aunty Margaret the best, and lots of rest even though she isn’t slowing down.  Much love and respect for her.

Kris Magnusson, acting associate vice-president academic, Learning and Teaching & former dean of Education, SFU

Elder Margaret has dedicated her life to education and service in Indigenous communities and well beyond. She served as part of the SFU Elders Program for more than 20 years. A friendly and familiar face on campus, Margaret touched the lives of countless students, faculty and staff, all with gentle advice and the most precious good humour. She has left an incredible legacy at this university.

I learned much from her over the years, but if I was to summarize two themes that stand out to me and to which I will bear witness  whenever I have the chance, they would be:

  • First, that she unfailingly called for and commanded respect for First Nations traditions, peoples and places.
  • And secondly, that she did so with grace, humility, humor and absolutely profound effect.

Elder Margaret, from my heart to you, thank you.

Andrew Petter, President Emeritus, SFU         

Elder Margaret is a force of nature whose warmth and wisdom have been a major source of strength and inspiration for the entire university community. One of her most remarkable qualities was her willingness and ability to provide guidance and encouragement not only to students, but also to faculty and administrators. The counsel she regularly provided me as president was invaluable in helping me to ensure that the university stayed true to its values and responsibilities, including its commitments to Reconciliation, and that we always moved forward “in a good way.”

Marcia Guno, former director, SFU Indigenous Student Centre

Elder Margaret is a person who has the tenacity, the endurance, the strength and the wisdom to understand that as a strategy, it was important for her to guide, support and mentor many individuals at many levels throughout this university. Her role was integral to supporting students, with her guidance and oversight she helped many leaders across SFU enhance Indigenous programs offered at SFU.

Working in large institutions such as universities, which are built upon ideologies rooted in colonial values, beliefs and structures, involves many peaks and valleys for many Indigenous people. Elder Margaret has worked at SFU for over 22 years. She has navigated challenges and has celebrated the triumphs that come with being an Indigenous woman who has worked within a large colonial institution.   Throughout all the peaks and valleys, Elder Magaret has continually guided SFU. In my viewpoint, good leaders work for the collective wellbeing of Indigenous community and for Indigenous people overall. Many Indigenous communities have a viewpoint that the Elders are always watching. We take comfort in knowing the Elders are with us to guide, support and provide care when needed. Not only did Elder Margaret work to support students, but like a matriarch, she was there to support many of us, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, who work at SFU. She helped support many of us in the work that we do: to support students, to educate, celebrate and hold up Indigenous peoples and history, to build innovative and strategic programming and to also develop respectful partnerships with our non-Indigenous friends at SFU.

I raise my hands in respect and gratitude to thank her for the incredible support she has provided to me personally, by supporting me, you helped support my work at SFU: to provide holistic support for Indigenous students at SFU  and to build a caring, strong Indigenous student community at SFU. Elder Margaret's steadfast and strategic work ensured that the Elders were always watching, guiding and mentoring, questioning and engaging when needed. Her work has helped SFU and will have a lasting impression for years to come.

Joy Johnson, president, SFU

In the twenty years that Elder Margaret has been with Simon Fraser University, she has contributed in so many ways. She’s had a number of roles, among them mentor, a listening ear, a dedicated community member, an inspiration to our students and a friend to so many of us.

I want to pay tribute to her unwavering support for the next generation. Through her work at the Indigenous Student Centre, she played such a pivotal role in terms of helping, guiding and mentoring our students. I’ve met so many SFU alumni who really have been touched by Elder Margaret, her wise words and her gentle way of being. She really played such a critical role in making SFU a more welcoming place for Indigenous students. I look at our Indigenous Student Centres now and they really are thriving places, because of the seeds that Margaret planted and grew so many years ago.

I feel very fortunate to have Elder Margaret in my life. She was a very important confidante for me and offered wise counsel in terms of how to show up, how to be in this world and how to think about truth and Reconciliation. Elder Margaret held up a mirror and shared important perspective and insights. For her guidance and wisdom, and her sense of humor–some of my fondest memories are spending time together before an event started, just having fun. Elder Margaret really does embrace that notion of enjoying and embracing life.

Chris Lewis, Indigenous executive lead, SFU

Firstly, I want to thank Auntie Margaret’s family for sharing and allowing her to serve over two decades at SFU. For many years she was the one and only Elder helping guide students to senior leaders. I think about how she has guided this institution to the place that we now know and love, in terms of the Indigenous resurgence that is happening within the institution. It’s a testament to Auntie Margaret’s strength, courage and wisdom to point us in the right direction. We want to thank Auntie Margaret for all the work that she’s done over the decades. We’re really going to miss her but all we have to do is look around– the First People’s Gathering House, the work that was outlined in the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council report–to see all the wisdom that she’s instilled into this place.

William Lindsay, former director, SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples

When I started at SFU in 2009, the Elder that I met first was Elder Margaret. There was also Elder Evelyn in Surrey with the Indigenous Bridge Program (now known as IUPP, Indigenous University Preparation Pathway), but we recognized quickly that we had a shortage of Elders here. On the recommendation of Elder Margaret and others, we quickly included the late Elder Jim, Elder Maureen and more.

I recognized the immediate need to work with our community on a few different initiatives, including the creation of a bigger Indigenous Student Center, moving from the closet-sized space in MBC to the bigger space they have now, and then on to bigger and better things: The creation of the Aboriginal Steering Committee, on which Elder Margaret I believe was the first Elder, expanded community partnerships and of course the Elders program. It was a pleasure to work with all of the Elders, including Elder Margaret. They brought stability, they brought their knowledge and they brought their experience here to this place, which desperately needed such.

Andrew Van Eden, community safety manager, səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation)

In my work with Tsleil-Waututh, the constant has been Auntie Margaret. In the earliest days of my time at Tsleil-Waututh, when there were only thirty employees, we had to pool our resources for how to get things done. Auntie Margaret was our Elder for the community development committee. She helped us with ideas, she helped give us direction.

One of the events that was very successful was “Community Clean-up Day”. We asked her “What do we call this?” And she said: “Community Pride”. So every year for 14 years, we made t-shirts that said “Community Pride”, and everybody got one for coming out to help look after the community, beautify it and share a sense of pride about where they lived. Those t-shirts that we wear, the pride that’s on them, is really the pride that she brought forward for us.