YWCA honours Dyck, Hansen-Gardiner, Burnouf
- NC Raine | August 01, 2019
Every year, a group of outstanding women are recognized at the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards for their achievements across industry, culture, and public service. Eagle Feather News spoke with three of the award recipients to find out how they're making a difference in their community, province, and country.
Senator Lillian Dyck
Lifetime Achievement Award
Senator Dyck, member of the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, is undoubtedly a trailblazer; Dyck is the first female First Nations senator and first Canadian-born senator of Chinese descent. She is the Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and has long advocated for equity in the education and employment of women, Indigenous people, and Chinese-Canadians.
“It was really humbling to be recognized for the work over the years,” said Dyck. “It was really gratifying that I have made that kind of impact on people. People's eyes are being opened to the issues.”
Dyck has given over 100 speeches about her work in the senate over the last 14 years, many of which being about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Dyck proposed a bill which would require judges to pass harsher sentences to offenders of crimes against women and girls.
“My work has been to amend the criminal code to put in better laws,” she said. “Laws that don't diminish the impact of violence against Indigenous women.”
Fighting for those discriminated against is something she's been compelled to do her entire career.
“I'm a Cree and Chinese senator, it's really important to me as an individual because both of my parents suffered a lot of discrimination,” she said. “I knew I had to speak up about it and try to make things better.”
Dyck, who worked as a professor of neuropsychiatry prior to being appointed to the senate, has also long been an advocate for women and Indigenous people in science.
“Women in science bring a different perspective. People from different backgrounds ask different questions,” said Dyck. “Same thing for Indigenous health – we need people there that are pushing what the impacts are going to be for Indigenous people.”
Saskatchewan Spirit Award
Terri Hansen-Gardiner's tireless spirit and dedication to her community is undeniable. Hansen-Gardiner is a cancer survivor who travels around the province to provide assistance, information, and support to Indigenous patients who are trying to access and navigate the cancer care system.
A former provincial and federal government employee, Hansen-Gardiner started working with the Saskatoon Health Region as an Aboriginal Client Advocate shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer. It was while going through the cancer care system on her own that she saw a great need to be filled.
“When I was going through the Saskatchewan cancer centre for my treatment, I saw a lot of Indigenous people, especially elders. They don't speak the language, they're crying, they see like no one understand them. There's a language barrier,” said Hansen-Gardiner. “I thought 'God gave me a second chance for a reason. I'm going to help these people.'”
What is amazing about Hansen-Gardiner is that she does this work (traveling the province supporting cancer patients) without an employer. She receives funding from organizations including the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency to cover expenses, but her work is largely volunteer.
From May to August, she talks to around 3,000 people across the province, and sometimes visits as many as seven communities in a week.
“A lot of people come up to me when they learn I'm a cancer survivor (...) I get treated so specially when I go to communities because I speak the language,” she said. “I tell people that cancer can be beat. You have to keep a positive attitude.”
Hansen-Gardiner said she loves what she does, and regardless of if she was getting paid or not, would still be out there helping people.
“Somebody has to be there for them,” she said. “If I didn't have this, if I didn't have something to look forward to, that's what's going to kill me. Not cancer.”
29 and Under Award
In a short time, Jordyn Burnouf has had a significant impact on several communities across the province. Burnouf, a member of the Black Lake First Nation, was working for Northlands College while the suicide crisis hit in northern Saskatchewan. She co-founded a girls' group in response to the crisis in order to give girls a positive outlet and improve mental health.
“We wanted to give them the opportunity to experience different and new things, develop some of their interests, and just have fun,” said Burnouf.
The groups would incorporate activities that would stimulate both their confidence and culture, involving anything from powwows to classes on hygiene.
“The effects in the community as a whole were big. Seeing girls around town, they were more confident and outgoing (...) There wasn't such a divide between ages or class of people,” said Burnouf.
Burnouf also co-founded Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track & Field, which not only hosts the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field Championships yearly, but trains young athletes with university-level athletes, and provides coaching and training development clinics to ensure sport in communities is sustainable.
“I think there's so much potential in youth. It's important to empower them and create spaces where they can grow,” said Burnouf. “I get so much fulfillment seeing these kids grow and become incredible human beings.”