British Columbia

Sarah Robinson, advocate for Indigenous women in B.C., loses her battle with cancer at 35

A wife, daughter and advocate for Indigenous women in B.C. died of cancer earlier this week. Sarah Robinson of the Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations in Treaty 8 territory passed away at the age of 35 on Sunday after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.

Robinson remembered as 'passionate, loving, heart-centered leader and person'

Sarah Robinson, pictured with her husband Carlos Mack, was diagnosed with colon cancer after going to a hospital emergency room with stomach pains. Her close friend and fellow advocate Chastity Davis-Alphonse said Robinson was an articulate and powerful storyteller. (Dayna Briemon/Submitted)

Sarah Robinson, a wife, daughter and advocate for Indigenous women in B.C., lost her battle to cancer earlier this week at age 35.

A member of the Fort Nelson and Saulteau First Nations in Treaty 8 territory, she passed away on Sunday after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.

Chastity Davis-Alphonse, a family friend and fellow advocate, says the legacy of Robinson's work will be remembered for generations.

"People who she met once are so impacted by her, it's unbelievable," Davis-Alphonse said. "She was a universal person that could talk to the leaders of the country and the province and then show her warmth to the homeless population."

Robinson completed the First Nations and Indigenous Studies program at University of British Columbia and also studied law at the University of Victoria. She was an appointed member of the B.C. Minister's Advisory Council on Indigenous Women and created an online video to help educate people on the history of Indigenous people in Canada.

Davis-Alphonse said she met Robinson in 2014 while serving on the Minister's Advisory Council and they instantly became friends. Robinson dedicated her life to providing advice and educating cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and other political staff on the lived experiences of Indigenous women in B.C. and what needs to be done to address issues of violence and discrimination.

She served on that council right up until she passed," Davis-Alphonse said. "Sarah gave her whole heart and soul to the council and to advising government."

An outpouring of messages on social media from fellow advocates, non-profit organizations and government officials showed her impact.

Davis-Alphonse said Robinson spent many hours studying and learning about the colonial history of Canada throughout her career. She particularly advocated for a better quality of life for Indigenous women because she came from a family that experienced both residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.

"She herself lived with the intergenerational trauma of that," she said, "and she was just motivated that you could see it, taste it and feel the change in Canada ... and she worked tirelessly to make that happen."

Robinson was an appointed member of the B.C. Minister's Advisory Council on Indigenous Women and advised government officials and political staff on improving the lives of Indigenous women. (Dayna Briemon/submitted)

Loss of a 'future leader'

Minister for Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon said he worked with Robinson during the re-establishment of the B.C. Human Rights Commission, and invited her to many meetings to get her insight and vast knowledge of Canadian history as it relates to Indigenous people.

"She gave me so much advice, especially when talking about human rights with Indigenous communities and the history of oppression that communities have faced," Kahlon said. "She was just so powerful, so caring and so thoughtful."

He said Robinson always had a gentle way of getting people to understand each other and she never criticized or shut people down, but rather helped them discover what they didn't know.

"Anyone that has ever met her talks about her as a future leader, as someone who had just so much hope and aspirations and was able to accomplish so much even in her young life," he said.

"And I'm just so sad."

A 'caregiver and healer'

Veronica Martisius, a staff counsel with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), said she was in her second year of law school when she was matched up to be Robinson's "law buddy" in 2017, which is a mentorship program at UVic to help students with any concerns, challenges and questions about life at law school.

"I googled her name and ... my jaw literally hit the floor because she was out there in the world already making such a huge difference," Martisius said, "and she just handled law school so well ... we were more so friends."

She said in addition to her advising work and law school, Robinson also helped organize a sit-in protest and a student-wide walkout during her time at UVic.

Martisius said she first met Robinson in 2017 during law school at the University of Victoria. She said they both felt an instant connection and have stayed friends every since. (Veronica Martisius/Submitted)

"She blew me away because here she is starting law school, but also maintaining her work," she said, "and it was incredible and I was so inspired."

Martisius said she last saw Robinson at the end of 2020 when she provided training for the staff at BCCLA, but they kept in touch through text messages.

"I'm going to miss how we might have connected in the future," she said. "She was a caregiver, a healer and had the most giving heart."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Sarah Robinson died aged 36. In fact, she was 35.
    May 28, 2021 11:11 AM PT

now