Former Senator Lillian Dyck says receiving the Order of Canada is 'emotional', a 'delightful surprise'

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The Honourable Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck says being appointed to the Order of Canada feels like a graduation.  (Lillian Dyck - image credit)
The Honourable Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck says being appointed to the Order of Canada feels like a graduation. (Lillian Dyck - image credit)

For the Honorable Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck, a former Saskatchewan Senator, receiving the Order of Canada feels like a graduation of sorts.

"It is like a culmination of all the years and hard work and frustration. You know, some joy, but lots of frustration," said Dyck, a member of the Cree Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, and a first-generation Chinese Canadian.

She is receiving the Order of Canada for advocating for First Nations and racial minorities, and for contributing to human rights and social justice.

Her hard work has spanned decades in areas such as politics, education and the the sciences. When she was informed she would receive the Order of Canada, Dyck says she was floored.

"Frankly, I just cried. And I feel quite emotional now. It was such a shock, a surprise, a delightful surprise. But it really sets you back. I think it's a tremendous recognition."

Dyck is among the 135 appointees set to receive the Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian awards, from Governor General Mary Simon.

The nominees "are shining examples of the commitment and outstanding contributions Canadians have made to the well-being of communities throughout this land," Simon said in a news release on Wednesday. They will receive their honours at an investiture ceremony on a future date to be announced.

Other Saskatchewan appointees include Saskatoon resident and Life of Pi author Yann Martel. He was one of only two people on the list to be named as a companion — the top award — and was nominated for his contributions to literature and his philanthropic commitment to the betterment of his region, according to a news release on Wednesday.

Lillian Dyck
Lillian Dyck

Other recipients of the Order of Canada include Prince Albert's Deborah Chatsis. She was the first member of a First Nation to serve as ambassador for Canada.

Regina's Robin Poitras has been appointed for her creative contributions to contemporary dance in Canada. And Saskatoon's Vaughn Wyant earned the Order of Canada for his contributions as a business leader in the auto industry and philanthropy.

Trailblazing

Dyck is widely known to be an accomplished trailblazer. Before being appointed to the Canadian senate, Dyck was a neuroscientist with the University of Saskatchewan, where she was also an associate dean.

"I've often felt like I was the only one. You know, often you face a lot of discrimination, racism, sexism. I'm 76 years old, so I've lived through some of the worst times ... So it felt like such a huge honour to be recognized for the work that I did to try to improve conditions for others like me."

Dyck says she hopes her being appointed to the Order of Canada will impact newer generations of Indigenous women and youth.

"Occasionally someone will say to me they were they were inspired by the fact that I was one of the first and very few female scientists, especially an indigenous female scientist," Dyck said.

"And so it's I think it's a combination of feeling proud and also knowing that one person can make a difference. It takes time. It takes a lot of work ... the dedication. There's a lot of barriers and there are times you want to give up. But when you look at it over a period of a lifetime, it does add up and it can make a big difference."

Dyck entered the world of national recognition in the late 1990s when she was nominated for what is now called an INSPIRE Award in science and technology. At the time, it was called the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

"And that really seemed to open the door. Up until that point, no one had really paid any much attention to the underrepresentation of Indigenous women in science. And then all of a sudden, there I was on a national stage with this organization. And from there on, things just kept moving forward," said Dyck.

After receiving that award in 1999 from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, former Prime Minister Paul Martin recommended to the then-Governor General that Dyck be appointed to the senate.

Next generation

These days, Dyck is retired and has cut back on events and guest speeches. But she loves to watch young Indigenous women come up and succeed.

"I'm totally inspired by the young people I see these days," Dyck said.

She says many are proud of who they are, their culture and language. She's also proud they are getting university degrees.

"And I know that there are many more of them. So the opportunities for change are much more amplified because of their strengths and because of their numbers."

Mathieu Thériault/CBC
Mathieu Thériault/CBC

Dyck says much still need to be done to eradicate violence against women, especially Indigenous women. This is what she spent much of her time working on. She hopes to see that work continue with the next generation.

And finally, Dyck says it's special to see many of her "chosen sisters" on the Order of Canada list with her. And it's meaningful to receive the honour from fellow Indigenous woman Governor General Mary Simon.

"I'll be so happy to receive an award from her as an Inuk woman and also an incredible trailblazer as well. So to me, that was so meaningful because it fulfills part of who I am to relate to another Indigenous woman."

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