For two recipients of this year’s Indigenous Awards of Excellence, the recognition had added significance because they were able to share it as a married couple.
Amanda Fowler-Woods [BA(Adv.)/04, M.Sc./09], a PhD student in community health sciences, and Dr. Melinda Fowler-Woods, associate professor of community health sciences and family medicine, were honoured at the award ceremony in March in the student and faculty categories, respectively.
“It means so much to me that I’m sharing this day with my wife and receiving an award like this on the same day as her,” said Melinda, a physician who is director of Ongomiizwin – Education in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.
“This is very symbolic of what we’ve done and what we’ve built in this particular community. We lead our lives with ceremony and culture and will continue to do so. It’s about our children, our 13-year-old and our two-year-old, and we want to carry it forward for them.”
The professor received the faculty award in the Trailblazer category for a body of work that includes clinical practice, education and advocacy.
“Dr. Fowler-Woods is a mentor to Indigenous students as they develop into future health-care professionals, and she is a true advocate for their well-being and safety while in their programs,” said Kimberly Hart [BA/01, BSW/08, MSW/14], senior lead, Indigenous health student affairs, Ongomiizwin – Education, who presented the couple with their awards.
Hart noted several of the professor’s innovative achievements, including the introduction of a medical school entrance interview workshop for Indigenous applicants and the mentorship event Pimose ta, Let’s Walk Together, which the couple worked on together.
Hart also praised Amanda for her commitment to Indigenous health, including her assistance in the creation of the Prairie Indigenous Knowledge Exchange Network, for which she volunteered as a mentor.
“Amanda’s experience and passion in the area of research with and for Indigenous communities epitomizes her as an excellent mentor for up-and-coming Indigenous health researchers,” Hart said.
Amanda said about her award, “It inspires me to keep going … and know that I’m inspiring others.”
The couple were among 10 winners at the ceremony, all of whom were presented with star blankets, a traditional gift of honour. For the first time since the awards began four years ago, the student awards also came with co-curricular record recognition and a cash prize of $250 from the university.
Debra Beach Ducharme [B.Ed/85, PB Cert.Ed/96, M.Ed/09], director of Indigenous health integration for Ongomiizwin – Education, received a staff award in the Community Builder category. She works alongside Elders, Indigenous communities and experts to provide supports for students as they transition from the U of M community into health science programs in the Rady Faculty.
Beach Ducharme works closely with nursing programs and conducts sharing circles for more than 200 nursing students each year. She thanked her ancestors and children for their inspiration and motivation.
“It was strong women that helped shape the future of our family. Their strength and wisdom and hard work brought our family to where we are today,” she said.
She also thanked the College of Nursing for nominating her. “I really do believe the university is breaking down barriers and really making connections with our community,” she said.
River Steele, a fourth-year nursing student, won the Student Trailblazer award. He played an important role in organizing Orange Shirt Day – Every Child Matters (raising awareness of residential schools) and last year donated a display of traditional Indigenous medicines to the College of Nursing.
“When I learned I was receiving this award, it was overwhelming, honestly,” Steele said. “At first I was kind of saddened, just because there are certain people I lost in my life recently and they were the reason that I do a lot of the things that I do. That really emphasized the responsibility that comes with receiving the blanket.”
BY ALAN MACKENZIE