First Nations leaders in human rights, education and economic development join Order of Canada
'It means so much because at 83, I'm still very much engaged in the community,' says Doreen Spence
There were three new Indigenous members of the Order of Canada announced by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette Friday, and two promotions of Indigenous members.
Since it was created in 1967, more than 7,000 people have been appointed to the Order, which recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to Canada.
Actor and singer Tom Jackson and author Thomas King were promoted to the companion tier, the highest rank of the Order of Canada.
Cree Elder Doreen Spence was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada for her efforts advocating for peace and Indigenous peoples' human rights.
"It means so much because at 83, I'm still very much engaged in the community," said Spence.
She was born in the Cree Nation of Saddle Lake in Northern Alberta and in 1959 she became one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a practical nursing certificate.
In 2017, Spence won an Indspire award for the work she's done over her life which include being an instrumental part in the development of the Calgary Urban Aboriginal Initiative, which is an organization that discusses human rights issues facing the Indigenous community and investigates solutions.
She also has been an advocate for human rights and was invited to sit as a committee member on the working group that developed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
Every Friday, Spence runs a mentoring program with students from the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.
She said that especially during COVID-19 the students need someone there to support them.
"I always see life as a gift. It's not a given," she said.
Waubageshig (Harvey Andrew McCue) of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario was appointed as a member for his contributions to the health and well-being of Indigenous youth in Canada and for his leadership in education.
"I'm thrilled to the moon and it came as a real shock and surprise. I'm quite honoured," he said.
Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, he said he noticed there weren't many programs in schools for Indigenous kids.
"There certainly wasn't any academic content and that's weighed on me quite heavily after I completed my education."
He helped found and develop the Native Studies Department at Trent University in 1969 and taught there for 14 years.
Two years ago he and a small team created a 24-module curriculum on suicide prevention for First Nations youth, which has been brought into a number of First Nations school in Canada and the United States.
This year he created a kindergarten to Grade 12 history curriculum for the Long Lake 58 community, located 250 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont.
"That curriculum will help the young people at Long Lake really strengthen their understanding of who they are, where their roots are, how their community came to be, and their connection to their Anishinaabe history and culture," he said.
"These activities and projects have been very fulfilling for me and their objective is to work to increase the health of very young people and contribute to their further self knowledge."
Chief Darcy Bear
Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation near Saskatoon was appointed as a member for his leadership of the First Nation, and for creating economic and social development opportunities for his community.