Senator Lillian Dyck to receive lifetime achievement award

Senator Lillian Dyck will be presented with a lifetime achievement award for her work in medicine and politics at the YWCA Women of Distinction banquet in Saskatoon on May 14.

Lillian Dyck says she will continue addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women

Senator Lillian Dyck will receive a lifetime achievement award next week in Saskatoon for her work in medicine and politics. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

Lillian Dyck is nearly in her mid-70s but says she still doesn't feel ready for a lifetime achievement award,.

Dyck, who has worked in neuropsychiatry in addition to being the first Indigenous woman and Chinese Canadian in the Canadian Senate, will receive such an award at the YWCA's Women of Distinction banquet on May 14 in Saskatoon.

"Often, being female, Indigenous and Chinese, there were a lot of barriers based on gender," Dyck told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning on Monday. "For the first part of my life, there really wasn't many options as a student."

Born to a Chinese father and a mother from the George Gordon First Nation, Dyck worked to become a professor of neuropsychiatry and became the associate dean at the college of graduate studies and research at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dyck said she had her proudest moment came during her work in medicine. She faced pressure to join a small pharmaceutical company that was a spin-off of research conducted by a group at the U of S that she had participated in.

"I said no, I didn't want to be part of that, because it didn't fit the values I had," Dyck recalled. "I just stood up and said 'No, I'm not interested' and walked out."

She was named to the Canadian Senate in 2005 by former Prime Minister Paul Martin. Dyck said another proud moment in her decorated career came when she addressed the lack of urgency to address the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

"They weren't, in my opinion, weren't pulling the weight in regard with missing and murdered Indigenous women," Dyck said of the group she had been working with.

"I just said, 'If you're not willing to take the next step, then I'm out of here,' and I just got up and walked out. In that case, they realized how serious the issue was for me and then they decided they would take the next step with me." 

Dyck, in her work to keep missing and murdered Indigenous women in the conversation of societal ills that need to be address and remedied, proposed a bill which would require judges to consider harsher sentences for offenders who commit violent crimes against Indigenous women and girls. That bill was approved by Senate but voted down by Parliament. 

Dyck has also linked missing and murdered Indigenous women to sexism in The Indian Act, which stripped Dyck's mother of her treaty status when she married Dyck's Chinese father. Dyck did not have treaty status until 1985.

"I think now that there's an opportunity to make changes ... the idea has been planted and I'm still trying to push forward in another way on another bill," she said of the efforts to address offenders who harm Indigenous women.

Bill C-75, which proposes changes to the Criminal Code of Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act as well as related legislation, is that act, Dyck said. It has a provision for intimate partner violence "but there's no mention of the greater vulnerability of Indigenous women."

Dyck will raise the issue during proceedings and will look at ways to get Indigenous women's vulnerability recognized into the bill.

She said it's important to support the YWCA for the programs and supports it has in place for women who are facing domestic violence and societal barriers.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning