North Island Collge’s (NIC) Elder-in-Residence Dr. Evelyn Voyageur received an honorary doctorate June 7 from Thompson Rivers University.
Voyageur was selected as one of six recipients this year, in recognition of her contributions and leadership in the community.
“It was the biggest shock of my life,” said Voyageur.
TRU’s Honorary Doctor of Letters recognizes achievements in the Arts and Sciences, or recognition for exemplary and distinguished community service. Voyageur was selected in recognition of her life’s work in health care through nursing and her tireless contributions to nursing curricula, which have promoted health care services for all, especially Indigenous people.
Voyageur began her career as a licenced practical nurse, became a registered nurse and went on to earn two master’s degrees and her PhD in Psychology.
Although she was a residential school survivor herself, Voyageur says she had to work to understand the lasting trauma and effect the schools had on her people.
“I was taken to the school when I was 10 so I was fortunate to have some time raised in my culture,” said Voyageur. “When I became a nurse and started working with my people, I didn’t understand them. Why don’t they know how to look after themselves? Why don’t they prepare for emergencies? And I started asking questions.”
Those questions lead to a career of advocacy, including work developing cultural safety training and developing the concept-based curriculum of NIC’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
“It’s an honour to work with and learn from Evelyn,” said Dr. Kathleen Haggith, NIC dean of health and human services. “She has shaped the direction of our BSN program and has had a profound impact on the wider college community.”
Along with her work as a member of the nursing faculty, Voyageur works as an Elder-in-Residence, providing support and guidance to NIC Aboriginal students.
She says her dream would be to have the teaching model developed at NIC put in place across the country in any program focused on working with clients.
“From day one, students are taught to build relationships with clients and how to see people as people,” said Voyageur. “From there they learn how to build bridges. They learn about others, but they also learn a lot about themselves. I truly believe this is what’s needed for people to be better workers, better human beings.”
Voyageur’s work and advocacy have been recognized nationwide. Earlier this year she received the prestigious Indspire Award for outstanding career achievement, one of the highest honours within the Indigenous community. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Registered Nurses of BC, an Award of Excellence in Nursing from Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Branch and was named one of Canada’s top 150 nurses.
Voyageur says the recognition she’s received is overwhelming.
“It’s been very emotional,” said Voyageur. “You see inequality and you start working to change it, and there’s times you think it will never happen. I didn’t know I’d be here today.”
– Submitted by North Island College