Adelaide McDonald was born in a tipi at Victor Lake, Alberta in 1941. She walked on to the spirit world on May 18, 2018, surrounded by her children at the University of Alberta hospital. She had thirteen children, four of whom died in infancy. The first three were born at home with the help of midwives. She also had thirty-nine grandchildren and twenty-seven great-grandchildren. Her family meant everything to her and each child, grandchild and great-grandchild felt her care and unconditional love.
McDonald was a master-craftswoman. Until her last day of consciousness, she was working on brain-tanning hides down at the creek with her sisters, brother and her daughter Carol. Her hides were highly sought after due to their superior quality. She was skilled at making dry meat and harvesting plants and berries from the land. Her beadwork and moccasins were beautiful and meticulously made.
McDonald was a well-respected healer who other healers came to learn from. She was incredibly gifted and had a vast knowledge of medicinal plants, herbs and roots. People came to see her from all over western Canada, and she helped bring healing to hundreds, if not thousands of people over the years. She was a firm believer in working together with western medicine and was always open to new ideas. She practised in a compassionate and principled manner.
In her later years, McDonald was determined to teach the next generations as much as she could. She had always taught her family but decided she wanted to teach beyond her close circle. In 2009, she started sharing stories and principles with professor Hadley Friedland, and was a central interlocutor and contributor toward the book, The Wetiko Legal Principles: Cree and Anishinabek Responses to Violence and Victimization, as well as the 2012 Accessing Justice and Reconciliation Project’s Cree Legal Traditions Report. As a teacher and a mentor, her wisdom and guidance was unparalleled.
McDonald was a great friend to the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. For the last two years, she came to Edmonton in September to make bannock and moose stew to welcome the Indigenous law students. She and her sister, Mabel, gave the opening prayer for the orientation where the Former Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin was a guest.
In 2016, McDonald told Friedland to apply for a grant so university students could come up to the community for land-based learning. When Friedland, along with professor Shalene Jobin from the Faculty of Native Studies, tried to explain the vagaries of funding in their application, it made the outcome uncertain. McDonald calmly said that because everything had been done in a good way, they would receive the grant and the course would happen. Her vision was realized with the launch of the Wahkohtowin course, in which 15 university students from the Faculties of Law and Native Studies came to learn about Cree laws and governance, through the central activity of brain-tanning a moose hide. This was a community led, fully collaborative project, where the university and community based teams worked in true partnership to develop and implement the course. McDonald was in her element, and the students fell in love with her, deeply feeling both her incredible skill and knowledge and her kindness and hospitality. Students described their experience as transformational.
At the closing circle, McDonald reminded the Wahkohtowin students that what she was teaching was not just from the past, but important and relevant for the future. We were truly privileged to have her friendship in our Faculty. She will be greatly missed by many.