Mourners are remembering Donald Marshall Jr. as a courageous man who fought for justice and was deeply committed to the Mi’kmaq people.
Hundreds of family members, friends and dignitaries packed Sydney's Saint Anthony Daniel Church for Marshall's funeral service yesterday, leaving standing room only on the church's main floor and an overflow crowd in the basement. About another 100 people remained outside under a grey sky.
Marshall died last week at age 55 after complications linked to a double lung transplant he underwent six years ago.
Marshall first rose to national prominence when he was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1971, spending 11 years in prison before he was released at age 28. A subsequent royal commission resulted in sweeping changes to Nova Scotia¹s justice system aimed at improving race relations and criminal investigation practices.
Later in life, he successfully fought for recognition of Mi'kmaq treaty fishing and hunting rights.
Rev. Donald MacGillivary noted in the service that while Marshall may be seen as having died before his time, he did have time to enjoy life and serve his people.
But he also dealt with great trial and torment. MacGillivary said it would be difficult for most people to imagine what it would have been like to go to prison for a crime they didn't commit. But Marshall survived his imprisonment without it embittering him.
“It takes courage to stand for what we know to be true, for what we know to be just, for what we know to be right,” he said.
Marshall will live on in the hearts of those who loved him, as well as in the memory of the Mi'kmaq people and the memory of the nation as a whole, MacGillivary added.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called Marshall a man who believed in his people.
“I feel so inspired like so many others, inspired by a man who knew who he was, where he came from, and for what he believed in,” he said.