Candy Palmater (1968-2021)

On December 25, 2021, Candy Palmater passed away. There have been many tributes. This one is mine.

Candy and I first met at Saint Mary’s University on March 21, 2001. There was an event on campus to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I saw on the poster “Mi’kmaw Lawyer,” and just had to go meet her. There wasn’t a whole lot of people at the event. I don’t even think that there were ten of us in the room. In retrospect, maybe talking about “racism” was uncomfortable back then, and many didn’t want to show up. After things were over, I went over to introduce myself to Candy and we pretty much hit it off from there.

For the next few years while I was a student at undergrad, Candy took an unofficial mentoring/big sister role for me. We had many lunches and dinners, and spoke about numerous things; life growing up on- and off-reserve, university, her family and mine, law school (she provided feedback on my application and prepped me for my interview), professional wrestling, racism, etc… We chatted about the funniest and most casual topics to more serious ones. Nothing was off-topic.

The next time I got to listen to Candy speak publicly was as an alumnus at the anniversary celebrations of the Indigenous Black and Mi’kmaw Initiative in January 2005. At the end of her session, she closed with a statement, pointing out that while folks rant and go on and on about the “War on Terror,” Indigenous peoples have been fighting terrorism since 1492. While it definitely got some vocal cheers from the audience, reading about the celebrations days later in the media, Candy’s thought-provoking line wasn’t mentioned. I emailed Candy about this, telling her that I was quite surprised that the paper didn’t highlight what she said, because I thought it was a pretty powerful message. She simply broke the truth to me; people get uncomfortable when you talk about racism. Two months later at a conference put on by the then-Dalhousie Aboriginal Law Student Association, she shared another robust perspective; if White women faced violence at the same rate as Aboriginal women did in this country, Canada would declare a national state of emergency. That May, she came to my undergrad graduation.

From 2005 and onwards, she hosted a weekly Friday event; Candy’s Happy Hour. Basically, every Friday for 5:00 p.m., we would go to a new bar/restaurant in the downtown region and socialize and drink. It was also a nod to Drybones, an Indigenous man charged with drinking off-reserve under the Indian Act. He challenged the law under the Canadian Bill of Rights and won. At these socials, I met so many of Candy’s friends and associates; one eventually became my real estate lawyer and the other helped me get my first law job post-articling. In third year law school, I invited Candy to speak at Law Hour on November 1, 2007 to talk about her career and life experiences. After my law school graduation in 2008, her and Denise hosted a celebratory dinner for me that summer at their place. That July, I went to see one of her shows at the end of Pride Week (I’ve been to countless shows of hers in the city). Less than a year later, she sent me a lovely card, expressing how proud she was of me and all that I’ve accomplished so far.

From 2010 to 2012, I had the privilege to working with Candy when I was employed with the provincial government. In 2013, knowing that I loved performing, she gave me an acting spot on The Candy Show. A year later, working with Denise, I nominated Candy for the Bertha Wilson Honour Society at the law school. She was eventually inducted in 2016.

While Candy, directly and indirectly, supported and facilitated my education and career over the decades, it was exciting and wonderful to see hers take off. In many ways, she sort of reminded me of an established and charismatic professional wrestler. Albeit how high and far she has gone with her calling, she always took the time to help “put over” those still working on their careers and or causes. Whenever I was in the room (in-person or virtual), she always gave a shout-out of kudos for how I was doing. She highlighted and praised others in their vocations too. She provided venues for folks to share their words and works. From my first memory/encounter over 20 years ago to my last chat with her in October 2021, she never changed. She was always the same. She was always Candy.

While we can inspire folks with words, sometimes actions and examples speak louder and can go further, and Candy did that for me. During law school, I started feeling as if I didn’t want to practice law, and articling confirmed this. With both, a few tried to convince me otherwise, that I had to become a lawyer and stick with it. Candy was also a lawyer. After practicing for a bit, she left the profession and pursued new endeavors, one in government and the other in entertainment. She shared how others, regardless of their age and where they were in life, would switch careers and try something new. What she did and what she shared continues to inspire me, and it will inspire others.

Storytelling is an integral part of Mi’kmaw culture, and Candy was incredibly solid at this. She always had stories, whether it was a part of her standup, The Candy Show, a panel speaker, over lunch/dinner, or at a work meeting. Over the years, I reheard many of her stories, and I never got tired of them. The one of her brother Billy is an important one that we should all follow; if you know how to get up, you can live without fear.

Being around Candy can be easy and difficult to describe. There was so much uplifting energy with her presence and what she said. You wanted to listen to what she had to say. You wanted to hear her jokes. You wanted her to help you see things differently. You wanted to listen to her stories. You wanted to be inspired. The forum didn’t matter; behind the scenes, a house party, work, being in the audience, on television, or just a simple lunch between you two at The Old Triangle. Yet it is difficult to describe her. There would be too many good words to use. I could go on and on, and maybe it’s because being around her as aforementioned are more than just words; it was an experience.

You can watch standup comedy, a talk show, a motivational speaker, a concert, a keynote address, etc… and while you may enjoy it, laugh, learn, and walk away feeling better, Candy had that extra gift to make you feel as if you were the only person in the room and she presented a world of energy for you. It was an energy that inspired and motivated you to want to do good – to do better – for others.

That’s what I think one of Candy’s greatest legacies will be.

There will be people in your life who will mean and do so much for you. Sadly, sometimes we don’t thank them while they are alive. Donald Marshall Junior was one of those persons, and I was always too scared to tell him that his life events have inspired me to go to law school and to help others – that he was my hero. I never told him that, and I live with this regret. However, I have expressed my gratitude to those who have inspired me. I thanked Clint in the latter part of his life before he died. Fortunately, I did tell Candy how I felt and what she meant to me – what she did for me. She never had to look out for or guide me along the way; she just did it. At her housewarming party on Gladstone, I was one of the last guests to leave. Before I did, I held her hands, looked her in the eyes, and I told her that, despite having three strikes against her (being a gay Mi’kmaw woman), as far as I’m concerned, she hits a home run every time. I told her that I was proud of her, thanked her for everything, and thanked her for being herself.

Tell your inspirations and motivations what they mean to you. Don’t ever wait, because one day, it may be too late. 

Kesa’lul Candy, wela’lin, aq namultis. 

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