Women of Note

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These two pages are dedicated to Aboriginal women who have made a difference in health care in their community and across Canada.

The Honourable Ethel Blondin-Andrew, P.C., M.P., L.L.D. was the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1988, as Member of Parliament for the Western Arctic. Re-elected in 1993, Ms. Blondin-Andrew was appointed Secretary of State for Training and Youth, making her the first Aboriginal woman to become a member of the Privy Council and Cabinet. In June 1997, Ms. Blondin-Andrew was re-elected and reappointed as Secretary of State (Children and Youth) where she continues today.

Throughout her political career, Ms. Blondin-Andrew has been a strong advocate for Aboriginal people, children, youth and persons with disabilities. She has raised awareness and worked actively on many initiatives and issues, including: the inclusion of Aboriginal communities in the development of national, regional and local labour market programs; Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy (YES); Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE); youth at risk; homeless youth, children with special needs; and tobaccoabuse, particularly in her integral role on the Youth Advisory Committee on Tobacco Use. A Treaty Dene from the Dene Nation, Ms. Blondin-Andrew’s mother tongue is Dene-Slavey. She is married to Leon Andrew and has three children—Troy, Tanya and Tim.


Dr. Valerie Assinewe has completed a doctoral thesis at the University of Ottawa on the medicinal use of American ginseng by Indigenous peoples. She looked at the phytochemical and immunopharmacological properties of this widely used natural health product. Her research showed that American ginseng stimulates the immune system. Her research included extractions and quantitative analyses of ginseng for natural health products manufacturers and diabetes research at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. Prior to her doctoral research, Dr. Assinewe was a consultant and career civil servant. As a consultant, she has worked primarily with the federal government on environmental issues and the participation of Aboriginal peoples on environmental protection issues. During her sixteen years as a manager and program officer with the Government of Canada in Edmonton, Yellowknife, Winnipeg and Ottawa, Dr. Assinewe coordinated the planning, implementation and fiscal management of a wide range of social development programs including Multiculturalism, Human Rights, Women, Disabled Persons Participation and Native Citizens. Dr. Assinewe was born and raised at Sagamok First Nation, Ontario. She resides in Ottawa with her husband, Terry Rudden, where they work as consultants.


Madeleine Dion Stout is a Cree speaker who was born and raised on the Kehewin First Nation in Alberta. Beginning as a Registered Nurse in Edmonton she went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from the University of Lethbridge and a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from the School of International Affairs at Carleton University. She is Past-President of the Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada and has served as a member of the National Forum on Health. She has been Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Education, Research and Culture at Carleton (CAERC) and was awarded a lifetime honorary membership to the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW). "My work is as much community and social activism as it is academic," she says. "I’ve devoted a lot of my life to helping Aboriginal people and women to recognize their own power. I believe change comes about in the smallest of ways. These need not be fancy or high profile, but more everyday. And obviously I’ve contributed something meaningful in people’s lives."


Lillian Dyck, Ph.D. is a member of the Gordon’s First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is a neurochemist who is a full Professor in the Neuropsychiatry Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, University of Saskatchewan. She has done research on how drugs, particularly antidepressants, affect neurotransmission. She is a member of a research team who developed and patented new drugs that may prevent neuro-degeneration in diseases such as Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. She has done research on alcohol metabolism in Canadian Indians and other populations. Lillian received awards for Science and Technology from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation [1999] and Saskatchewan First Nations, Women of the Dawn [2000].


Ophelia Kamenawatamin completed the Walk for Life, on October 2, 2001, to raise funds to buy dialysis machines for the new Sioux Lookout hospital and to lobby for suitable housing for kidney treatment patients. She walked from the Manitoba/Ontario border to Parliament Hill starting her walk on August 6. Ophelia contemplated this walk for nearly 10 years and in the year 2000 shared her dream with her family and friends who supported and encouraged her. As a mother of eight from Bearskin Lake First Nation she understands the needs of patients on dialysis. Ophelia’s daughter was on dialysis for 11 years. "People rely on dialysis for life support—it’s their life." Ophelia encourages others to support the walk by sponsoring, donating or participating in the Walk for Life.


Gail McDonald, a resident of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, has held positions at the national, regional and community level in an active career spanning 25 years in advocating First Nations health, research, policy, community development and self-governance. Gail is the Director of the National Aboriginal Health Organization’s First Nations Centre. She has served in a number of national positions including National Coordinator for the First Nations and Inuit Regional Longitudinal Health Survey and the First Nations Information Governance Committee, both of which are initiatives mandated through the Assembly of First Nations. Her ongoing activities promoting the development of the First Nations health info structure— which will impact research, information, health technologies and access issues—coupled with her work advocating ethical research in First Nations communities, stand as a testament of Gail’s commitment and dedication to improving Aboriginal health conditions.


Caroline Tait is a doctoral student in the departments of Anthropology and Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University. She has a BA from McGill University in Anthropology and a Master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Caroline was a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow at Harvard University in the departments of Anthropology and Social Medicine during the 1995-1996 academic year. Caroline’s research is based mainly in Canada, particularly in Quebec and Manitoba. However, her research spans across North America, contrasting the Canadian and American public health responses to substance abuse by pregnant women. Caroline’s doctoral dissertation is tentatively entitled, "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects: The ‘Making’ of a Canadian Aboriginal Health and Social Problem" and will be completed in 2002. She is also the author of A Study of the Service Needs of Pregnant Addicted Women in Manitoba, and co-author of "The Mental Health of Aboriginal People: Transformations of Identity and Community" published in a recent volume of Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Caroline is Métis from MacDowall, Saskatchewan She is a past advisory member to the Board of Directors of the Native Friendship Center of Montreal . Caroline has one son, Skender.


The Nuu-Cha-nulth Community and Human Services Community Health Nurses on Vancouver Island have been awarded the Health Advocacy Award of the Registered Nurses Association of B.C. For the first time it was awarded to a group of nurses for their culturally sensitive nursing care to the Nuu-cha-nulth First Nation. This island community and the nurses developed a framework for the nurses’ relationship with their clients. Basic to it is respect for First Nations traditions and individual responsibility for health. The outcome is a partnership between the nurses and the community where the nurses provide care but the clients take responsibility for their health decisions. The most positive outcome of the nurses’ advocacy is the increase in breast feeding among new mothers. “The challenges for this type of nursing are great and the successes are small,” says Penny Cowan, community nurse specialist. The dedication of the nurses is unwavering. They know their work is empowering to the people in this small island community. The hope is that this community will not suffer the same preventable health problems that currently affect First Nations populations elsewhere.