Jody Wilson-Raybould is among 14 outstanding British Columbians awarded the province’s highest honour on Monday for exceptional contributions to society.
The Order of British Columbia is often granted in the twilight of an illustrious career, but Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first federal Indigenous justice minister and twice-elected regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations, is just hitting her stride as she continues to be a force for reconciliation in Canada.
A member of the We Wai Kai Nation, the former MP spoke with Canada’s National Observer on Tuesday while reportedly basking in the sun on the porch of her family home in Cape Nudge Village on Quadra Island.
“I hope it’s not the last third of my career,” Wilson-Raybould said with a laugh.
“It’s a great honour and pretty cool to be included in such a diverse group of people.”
The recognition of her work is the result of support and the contributions of many people, and reflects the power of collective effort, she said.
That kind of collaboration across the country is a key ingredient to real reconciliation, she added.
“Everybody has a role to play in changing our current reality and working towards an improved and better future.”
The axis of the 51-year-old lawyer’s career has been advancing Indigenous rights, tackling the legacy of Canada’s colonial past and spearheading efforts to rebuild First Nations’ governance.
While regional chief, her focus was on empowering Indigenous people to take the practical steps necessary to realize the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recognition of Aboriginal and treaty rights provincially and federally.
As federal justice minister and attorney general, she shepherded changes to laws and policy on medical assistance in dying (MAID), the legalization of cannabis, diversity in the judiciary, along with the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights.
Wilson-Raybould agreed it’s interesting, and perhaps significant, that the province is recognizing someone known for holding government to account.
“Maybe it’s a recognition — particularly in this day and age when we’re living with so much turmoil — that we all have to play a role in our democracy,” she said.
After exiting the tumult of federal politics, Wilson-Raybould’s political memoir and second book, Indian in the Cabinet, became a national top 10 seller in 2021.
It details her re-election as an independent MP after her resignation from cabinet and expulsion from the Liberal caucus in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal — which ended with the federal ethics commissioner finding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had acted improperly in pressuring her to avoid prosecution of a criminal case against the Montreal-based engineering firm with global reach.
Wilson-Raybould’s third book, True Reconciliation: How to Be a Force for Change, is set to go to the printers and is due out in early November, she said.
“It answers the question I’m asked most often by people from all walks of life across the country,” she said, “which is: ‘What can I do to advance reconciliation?’”
The book details her experiences, lessons and the teachings rooted in her community. Wilson-Raybould hopes it will spark discussion and progress on reconciliation for individuals, companies or government by focusing on three practices: learn, understand, and act.
Not all the key components were apparent in last week’s Canadian tour by Pope Francis to apologize for the role members of the Roman Catholic Church played in residential schools, she said.
“I would never take anything away from residential school survivors or Indigenous Peoples that found the Pope's apology important,” Wilson-Raybould said.
“In any respect, if it was healing for them, then that is important in and of itself.”
However, given many of Wilson-Raybould’s relatives went to residential schools, including her grandmother and family matriarch Ethel Pearson, the papal apology on Canadian soil left her wanting, she said.
“I was thinking when I heard the Pope’s apology, what’s next?” she asked.
“Words are important … (but) actions matter far more.”
Political leaders have also made apologies and steps toward reconciliation have taken place, she said.
But critical changes by government to laws, policies and practice are still needed to advance true reconciliation.
“The action required to create transformative change hasn’t happened,” she said.
“And that’s what I and so many others will continue to press for.”
Two more Indigenous female leaders received the Order of British Columbia alongside Wilson-Raybould for the strength of their work benefiting the province and First Nations.
Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir is being recognized for her courage in leading the community of Tḱemlúps te Secwépemc through the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
As representative for Le Estcwicwéý (the missing children) and an advocate for justice, reconciliation and healing for First Nations, she broadly advanced the public’s understanding in Canada, and beyond, of the ongoing legacy of the residential school system.
Kúkpi7 Casimir was part of the Indigenous delegation to the Vatican in March to discuss residential schools — resulting in the pontiff’s first historic apology at the end of the group’s visit.
Dr. Nadine Rena Caron, the first Indigenous woman to become a general surgeon in Canada, has centred her distinguished medical career on improving the health of rural, remote, northern and Indigenous communities.
She provides surgical oncology services at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George and is First Nations Health Authority chair in cancer and wellness at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Caron is also a professor for UBC’s Northern Medical Program and the Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health — which she co-founded and co-directs, and holds a faculty position with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for American Indian Health in the U.S.
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer