Doreen Spence has been a warrior and a healer her whole life, and yet her fight for fundamental freedoms, rights and respect for Indigenous people is far from over, and her work to heal the trauma of generations of injustice visited upon them has only begun.
Her frustrations over the challenges Indigenous people face are many, and yet she is driven by hope and powerful striving for a healthy and brighter future.
Born a member of the Saddle Lake Cree First Nation in Northern Alberta, Doreen was one of the first Indigenous women to earn a practical nursing certificate and she worked as a nurse for 40 years before taking up traditional Native healing. She volunteers in Native and non-Native communities and her passion, as a Native Elder, is to help heal all parts of the person: the physical body, the emotions and the spirit.
Ask about the challenges she has faced in her lifelong human rights work for Indigenous people and she answers quickly: “Colonization.”
“We must recognize that there was a North American holocaust of Native people,” Doreen says. “We ask ourselves, where do we go now? We must build bridges, bridges to cover the gaps among all nations.”
Wearing the mantle of educator and mentor Doreen founded the Plains Cultural Survival School Society and the Canadian Women’s Resource Institute, as well as serving on the University of Calgary Senate.
Over the decades she has worked with human rights leaders including the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and garnered international recognition, including a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 as part of the 1000 PeaceWomen initiative.