Pauline Dempsey builds bridges. Not physical ones that span rivers and valleys, but cultural bridges that knit communities together and help to build understanding and respect between peoples who might otherwise never have a chance to connect.
A member of the Blood tribe, Pauline was born on the Blood reserve south of Calgary, near Cardston, Alberta.
Pauline is a leader and a force of nature when it comes to forging cross-cultural relationships and advocating for positive change between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. “The underlying theme is to counter the terrible image, which still exists, of the native people,” she says, explaining her lifelong efforts.
Her efforts also provided an antidote to the bureaucracy she first encountered when working for the Department of Indian Affairs in Edmonton as a young woman.
“I thought that I would be helping and working for the betterment of my Native people and friends, but instead ended up following rules and regulations set down by Ottawa,” she says.
Early on she helped found the Ninaki Club through the YWCA, where native and non-native women could come together to forge friendships and learn about one another’s cultures.
That set the pattern for other organizations to follow, including helping to launch the Calgary Indian Friendship Society (now the Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary), building support for First Nations people, particularly at colleges and universities, and promoting understanding between the two communities.
In addition to her tenure as a member of the University of Calgary Senate, Pauline leant her energy and vision to U of C’s Indian Students’ University Program and she also worked with Mount Royal Junior College’s Project Go Ahead for First Nations students.
Throughout it all, she has advocated not just for understanding between communities, but for a better appreciation of women’s critical community- and nation-building role.
“Most people, including native people, do not fully realize the extent and value the woman’s role is to the culture,” she says.