Dorothy Maquabeak Francis was one of Canada’s great Aboriginal teachers, combining her love of Bahá’u’lláh with her promotion of Native culture and identity. A member of the Saulteau First Nation, Dorothy Francis was born on 22 March 1912 and raised on the Waywayseecappo reserve in Manitoba, near the town of Russell. She spent her early married life with her husband, Joseph, on a reserve just outside of Broadview, Saskatchewan.
In 1953, one of her nine children died because of inadequate hospital facilities for Aboriginal Canadians. The family then moved to Regina, Saskatchewan, but no one would rent a house to Native Canadians with large families, so they ended up pitching a tent on the outskirts of town. At that time, fewer than 50 Aboriginal people were in the area. Dorothy Francis became involved in the Regina Native Society and then founded the first Indian Friendship Centre, spending most of her evenings there providing counselling.
The family then moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Dorothy Francis worked at the Indian Centre, first as a manager of arts and crafts, then as a family counsellor. She became an economic development officer and Native cultural worker and was elected chair of the National Arts and Crafts Advisory Committee. She also served on the Ontario Arts and Crafts Advisory Board. Dorothy Francis was an artist, and some of her work has been exhibited in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. She also hosted a weekly Native cultural programme for Canada’s national radio network, published a book on Native legends and recorded Native lullabies.
Dorothy Francis was introduced to the Bahá’í Faith by Angus Cowan and became a Bahá’í in 1960. Disturbed by the conflict between Native and Christian cultures and searching for her place and the place of her people in Canadian society, she found that the Bahá’í Faith not only let her maintain her identity, but nurtured it.
She served on several Local Spiritual Assemblies (the governing councils that oversee the administrative affairs of local Bahá’í communities). She was also elected as a delegate to the Canadian Bahá’í National Convention several times and travelled to many parts of the country to share the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. She promoted Aboriginal culture and identity in many ways. For that work, she was honoured in 1978 by being appointed a member of the Order of Canada. In her later years, despite the effects of a severe stroke, she created and organized a Native spirituality project for British Columbia corrections institutions. She died of a heart attack in New Westminster, British Columbia, on 16 October 1990.
* Adapted from Bahá’í World, Vol. 20. 1986–1992, “In Memoriam,” pp. 990–991.
Early Canadian Bahá’ís
The Bahá’í community has a rich history of members who have contributed greatly to their society as well as to the early development of the Bahá’í community in Canada and the world.