Jan. 15, 2021

Elder in Residence receives one of Canada’s highest civilian honours

Cree Elder Doreen Spence appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for efforts advocating for peace and Indigenous Peoples’ human rights
Doreen Spence
Doreen Spence

At a time when we might feel a lack of inspiration or hope about altering the current socio-political landscape, a good-news story about recognition of determination and hard work to create social justice change can be just the antidote needed. “It’s incredible and awesome, and I’m thrilled to be appointed," says Cree Elder Doreen Spence of her recent appointment to the Order of Canada. "Because Indigenous women are usually the last people to be recognized. I’m still levitating to be recognized."

Spence’s involvement with UCalgary includes leading and participating in the Connection Circles series, co-hosted by the Alberta Indigenous Mentorship in Health Innovation (AIM-HI) Network and the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Indigenous, Local and Global Health (ILGH) Office. She leads outdoor land-based learning workshops for the AIM-HI Network. She is an active Elder in Residence with the ILGH’s Traditional Knowledge Keepers in Residence program, and was also involved in the CSM’s Indigenous Hub planning consultations.

Spence knows that more than ever with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the racism faced by Indigenous Peoples in health care, Indigenous youth need support, guidance and encouragement. She sees the programs offered by the university as a way of providing hope. “Sparks of light are seen here and there at the end of a long, dark tunnel you can see glimpses of shifts and changes,” she says. She encourages anyone who is working to create change and is feeling overwhelmed to reach out because you’ll likely find you’re not alone. The ILGH’s Indigenous Health Program co-ordinator can be contacted via email.

Despite facing numerous obstacles throughout life, often being told she couldn’t do things, or that she didn’t belong, she knew it was her responsibility to prove her naysayers wrong. Her work has earned her many accolades including an Alberta Human Rights Award, Alberta Centennial Medal and a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. Spence is a fierce advocate for Indigenous human rights and a strong leader for her community.

Doreen Spence is an internationally respected Cree Elder, a strong advocate for human rights and one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a practical nursing certificate. She received an Honorary Bachelor of Nursing from Mount Royal University and won Indspire’s Culture, Heritage and Spirituality Award in 2017. She now focuses on sharing her teachings and traditional healing practices around the world.

The Traditional Knowledge Keepers in Residence program at the Cumming School of Medicine is funded by an ii’taa’poh’to’p’ Intercultural Capacity Building grant.

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