Winning a prestigious award is an honour to any individual and the one awarded to Shirley Cheechoo, Brock University Chancellor, came as nothing less than that. On December 27, Cheechoo was named to the Order of Canada, an award given by the Governor General of Canada to honour those who make extraordinary contributions to the nation.
Cheechoo was born in Quebec to one of the largest First Nations groups in North America known as the “Cree”. Growing up Cheechoo worked on the trap lines with her family until of the age of nine when she taken away from them and sent to a residential school. As a survivor of a residential school, Cheechoo experienced struggles such as substance abuse when she left the school at the age of 15.
As a producer, director and visual artist, Cheechoo was able to turn her life around. Cheechoo’s films featured themes of healing and surviving post-trauma experiences and soon rose to success in the film industry. In July of 2015, Cheechoo was named Chancellor of Brock University for her strong leadership abilities and capability for connecting students to the importance that the Indigenous people played in creating our country.
This was a huge accomplishment for Cheechoo as she was the institutions first female and Indigenous Chancellor. Cheechoo feels as though the Indigenous peoples are not on the same playing field as other citizens of Canada. Her work is built on the foundation of ensuring that a more equal set of opportunities is established so that Indigenous peoples can enjoy life to the fullest with nothing holding them back.
By working in the film industry, she is creating opportunities for children to express their beliefs and feelings in a big way. In 2008, Cheechoo was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award in 2013. The awards acknowledge her commitment to education and her selfless acts of kindness to ensure an equal chance to life for all Canadian citizens.
Cheechoo currently resides in Manitoulin Island where she runs the Weengushk Film Institute for Aboriginal Youth and has a passion for youth education and helping them find their path in life in order to achieve their dreams.
Over the course of her time as Chancellor, Cheechoo has inspired many students and colleagues. Cheechoo aims to advance the education welfare of students; her contributions to the Brock community have not gone unnoticed and continue to make the Brock community proud.
“The Order of Canada is awarded to very special people who have made significant contributions to their community or to the country, and who generally make Canadians proud,” said Gervan Fearon, Brock University President. “Chancellor Cheechoo’s contributions have enriched Canada as an inclusive and compassionate nation through her artistic achievements and broad community involvement.”
“Furthermore, by establishing the Weengushk Film Institute, she has opened the doors of opportunity for so many young, talented Indigenous Canadians, and of course she continues to be a strong and inspirational leader as our Chancellor here at Brock University. Shirley Cheechoo is indeed a perfect choice to receive the Order of Canada.”
Cheechoo’s achievements have been recognized by Brock University’s President Gervan Fearon. Multiple awards also commemorate her outstanding contributions to society and First Nations people. Cheechoo is one of Canada’s outstanding citizens, choosing to make a major difference in today’s society in order to secure equal rights for everybody.