Calgary-based Cree elder named to Order of Canada
Doreen Spence received honour Tuesday for 'teachings of unconditional love and reconciliation'
A Calgary-based advocate for Indigenous peoples' rights and issues facing Indigenous communities across the country has been given Canada's highest honour.
Elder Doreen Spence is now an officer of the Order of Canada.
Taking it all in, she described the moment as surreal.
"Is this actually happening or am I going through a dream?" she said via Zoom,
"The thing for me that was so special was the Governor General being Indigenous herself."
Spence became one of the first Indigenous licensed nurses in Canada in the late-1950s, beginning a 40-year career.
Spence was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the 1,000 PeaceWomen Project in 2005.
The Elder from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in northern Alberta is also Canada's representative and presiding elder to the United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Populations, helping draft the declaration that established global human rights standards.
In one of her many other gigs, she works with nursing students at Mount Royal University, teaching them Indigenous perspectives in healing, teaching and learning.
"There's so much to grandmother that it's elder, it's doctor, it's — You can't sum her up," said Tanya Stogre who accompanied Spence to Ottawa for the ceremony. "That sums her up so much. She transcends everything really as an 85-year-old young."
Stogre, who is an associate professor of Education at MRU, calls Spence Doctor Grandmother and says her work is far from finished.
Spence herself says she has no plans of slowing down and will continue devoting her efforts to issues she is passionate about.
It's about always building relationships through love and kindness to do the best for our environment, she says.
"We have to have clean drinking water for our future generations. We have to breath clean air as people, and those are very important things, basic human rights stuff that we face as Indigenous people every day."
"We have to fight or continue to pursue our rightful place in cycle of life."
With files from Terri Trembath