Life must be lived in balance, says Indspire winner

Monday, November 28th, 2016 5:34pm


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Cree Elder Doreen Spence (Photo:

By Shari Narine
Sweetgrass Contributing Editor

November 28, 2016.

Cree Elder Doreen Spence is no stranger to accolades. But winning the Indspire Award is special.

“It’s a big honour because it comes from the people themselves, our people. That says a lot about the work that I do,” said Spence, a traditional healer and registered nurse.

Spence is one of two recipients of Indspire’s award for culture, heritage and spirituality. The awards represent “the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its own achievers,” according to Indspire.

Spence practises her traditional ways through her roles in education, health and ceremony.

“It’s bringing that holistic awareness not only to our people but to the non-Natives as well,” she said.

The holistic approach is evident in the formal education Spence has received. She studied at Bible school before receiving training as a nurse. She left the nursing profession shortly before full retirement. She enrolled in courses at the University of Calgary, such as women studies, religion, and family and law, that would help her “better serve the people.”

Presently Spence is working with Mount Royal University, in Calgary, to Indigenize its nursing program as well as delivering workshops to social work students and intensive training to professors.  She says it’s important for students to understand the spiritual ways of the people they are working with.

Spence also works at the Healing Space Calgary, where she runs two or three Vision Quests annually, and facilitates healing.

“Many of our own people through residential schools and through various processes of colonization … there’s so much that has been lost,” she said.

But change is occurring.

“What I’m feeling and seeing and experiencing in my community is more healing and less judgment and less blame and pointing fingers at each other. I feel that we’re moving forward together, we’re learning how to agree and disagree with each other,” she said.

Spence is a firm believer in leading by example, something she was taught be her Elders on the Saddle Lake First Nation.

“You walk the talk, you don’t talk the talk. We’re here to exemplify the teachings and to bring enlightenment and awareness to all peoples,” she said. “It’s important to always be very balanced and strong inside so you can withstand all those forces as they come at you.”

That is particularly important right now, Spence adds, as the election of Donald Trump has raised the level of racism both in the United States and in Canada.

Spence was the founder and president of the Plains Cultural Survival School Society and the Canadian Indigenous Women's Resource Institute. She has also been a senator at the University of Calgary.

She has won international awards, having undertaken work in Europe, Africa, the United States and New Zealand. She was also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for the 1000 Women of Peace Project in 2005 and won an international award at the New Zealand Spiritual Elders Conference in 1992.
Spence, 80, will be presented with the award in March. Also winning an Indspire Award from Alberta was Josh Butcher, in the Metis youth category


Cree Elder Doreen Spence (Photo: