North Island College Elder-in-Residence Dr. Evelyn Voyageur has received the 2018 Indspire Award for outstanding career achievement, one of the highest honours within the Indigenous community.
“When I began nursing, we were only taught to look after the dominant society, but we’re not all the same,” said Voyageur. “When I saw how our people were treated, I became very vocal in fighting for equality.”
Voyageur grew up in the residential school system, which separated her from her family and limited her education beyond Grade 8. Undeterred, as a young mother with three children she returned to school to upgrade and pursue a nursing career.
She started as a licensed practical nurse in 1979. After working for a few years, she upgraded again and began studying to become a registered nurse. A high achiever, she was shocked when a teacher failed her for bedside manner, the very thing she had received an award for a few years earlier. Voyageur proved that teacher wrong, going on to earn a master’s degree and then a PhD.
“How many people have listened to someone who has failed them?” said Voyageur. “If I had listened to that teacher, I wouldn’t be here today.”
After a long career as a nurse, Voyageur turned her passion for advocacy toward teaching. In her current role as Elder-in-Residence at North Island College, she has been instrumental in guiding curriculum, mentoring students and bringing First Nations ways of knowing into classrooms across B.C.
“Evelyn is an inspiration to all of us in the Faculty of Health and Human Services,” said Dr. Kathleen Haggith, NIC dean of health and human services. “Her wisdom and teachings profoundly affect the direction of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.”
“Evelyn has been a role model for faculty and students, and we are immensely grateful for her continued commitment to nursing education at NIC and beyond,” added NIC president, John Bowman.
Voyageur lived the Truth and Reconciliation principles long before they were officially established and mandated, encouraging NIC nursing students to respect Indigenous voices, traditional knowledge and values. She has worked closely with NIC instructor Joanna Fraser to lead annual field schools to Kingcome and Rivers Inlets, guiding student nurses to empower and mentor communities to use traditional knowledge and values to restore health.
The field schools, which students receive academic credit as part of NIC’s Health and Wellness in Aboriginal Communities (NUR-410) course, are developed in relationship with community — with respect for Wuikinuxv and Dzawada’enuxw protocols and knowledge.
“I really believe this experience has helped our students to be better nurses,” said Voyageur. “Where our graduates are working you hear nothing but praise. It makes me very proud.”
Voyageur’s advocacy is recognized nationwide. In addition to the Indspire Award, she earned a College of Registered Nurses of BC Lifetime Achievement Award, is the first Indigenous nurse to receive an Award of Excellence in Nursing from Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Branch, and was recently named one of the top 150 nurses across Canada. NIC alumna Dawn Tisdale, past president of the Canadian Nursing Student Association, was also named one of the top 150 nurses for Canada. Voyageur is her inspiration.
“Evelyn’s guidance, mentorship and wisdom as an elder has deeply impacted not only my nursing practice but how I carry myself in this world,” said Tisdale. “Evelyn’s leadership and heart have inspired a generation of leaders who are changing the course of healthcare in Canada.”
In addition to her role as NIC Elder-in-Residence, Voyageur is active in the Vancouver Island Health Authority Aboriginal Working Group, the New Hospital Projects Aboriginal Advisory Committee, the Ministry of Children and Families Aboriginal Advisory Group, the Canadians Seeking Solutions and Innovations to Overcome Chronic Kidney Disease (Can-SOLVE CKD) network and more.
The Indspire Award ceremony will be shown on APTN and on CBC in the near future. Screening details will be listed at cbc.ca/indspire.
Learn more about NIC’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at nic.bc.ca/health-human-services and view Dr. Voyageur’s full profile at https://bit.ly/2GQR5PF