Heritage Day Honours Rita Joe
February 16, 2023
Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe will be honoured on Heritage Day, Monday, February 20.
“Elder Rita Joe dedicated her exceptional talents to celebrating Mi’kmaw culture through the written word,” said Lt.-Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc. “Her body of work inspired others to give a voice to their experiences and paved the way for Mi’kmaw authors who followed in her footsteps. I am happy to celebrate Elder Rita’s legacy and significant contributions to the province on this special day.”
Rita Joe’s first collection of poetry was published in 1978, and she went on to publish six more works and earn many honours, including recognition as the poet laureate of the Mi’kmaq. One of her most well-known pieces is I Lost My Talk, which reflects on her residential school experience and the loss of the Mi’kmaw language.
“The words that Elder Rita Joe shared with us through her poetry continue to speak to us today,” said Karla MacFarlane, Minister of L’nu Affairs. “I encourage Nova Scotians to make some time on Heritage Day to learn more about Mi’kmaw heritage and culture, and our shared history with L’nu’k.”
Rita (Bernard) Joe was born in 1932 in We’koqma’q First Nation, Unama’ki (Cape Breton Island). She lost both parents at an early age and spent several years in foster care before attending the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie. As an adult, she moved to Eskasoni First Nation, and through her writings, she celebrated her people and Mi’kmaw culture and shared her experiences at the residential school. She died in 2007.
Several events are being held to recognize Rita Joe, including a community celebration this evening, February 16, in Eskasoni and presentations by Indigenous writers on Wednesday, February 22, at the Halifax Central Library and Wednesday, March 1, at Millbrook First Nation.
Heritage Day celebrates our province’s cultural heritage so we can tell important stories of unique, diverse and inspiring Nova Scotians. In her autobiography, Rita Joe challenged Indigenous youth to find their voices, share their stories and celebrate their talents. Her influence and inspiration have had a great impact on our province. Pat Dunn, Minister of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage
Our mother provided a gentle but powerful voice for our community and Mi’kmaw people. She inspired so many to dream, to use their voice and connect with their identity on their own terms. We are happy that Nova Scotians across the province will be celebrating the legacy of our mother, together with us. Frances Sylliboy, daughter of Rita Joe
- Rita Joe received the Order of Canada in 1989 and became a member of the Queen’s Privy Council in 1992
- she was one of four Elders recognized by Halifax Regional Municipality during Mi’kmaq History Month in 2002
- a Halifax Transit ferry named after her began operating in 2018
- launched in 2015, Heritage Day is an annual statutory holiday that honours the remarkable people and places that have contributed to Nova Scotia’s history
More information on Nova Scotia Heritage Day, 2023 honouree Rita Joe and this year’s celebrations is available at: https://heritageday.novascotia.ca/
February Holiday Act: https://nslegislature.ca/sites/default/files/legc/statutes/february%20holiday.pdf
Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage:
Office of L’nu Affairs: