The national award recognizes Voyageur’s role in transforming health care in hospitals and communities across BC and Alberta. For more than 50 years, she has practiced, and advocated for, a holistic view of health that integrates spiritual, emotional, physical and mental well-being.
“When I began nursing, we were only taught to look after the dominant society, but we’re not all the same,” said Voyageur. “When I saw how our people were treated, I became very vocal in fighting for equality."
Voyageur grew up in the residential school system which separated her from her family and limited her education beyond Grade 8. Undeterred, as a young mother with three children she returned to school to upgrade and pursue a nursing career.
She started as a licensed practical nurse in 1979. After working for a few years she upgraded again and began studying to become a registered nurse. A high achiever, she was shocked when a teacher failed her for bedside manner, the very thing she had recieved an award for a few years earlier. Voyageur proved that teacher wrong, going on to earn a master’s degree and then a PhD.
“How many people have listened to someone who has failed them?” said Voyageur. “If I had listened to that teacher, I wouldn’t be here today.”
After a long career as a nurse, Voyageur turned her passion for advocacy toward teaching. In her current role as elder-in-residence at North Island College, she has been instrumental in guiding curriculum, mentoring students and bringing First Nations ways of knowing into classrooms across BC.
“Evelyn is an inspiration to all of us in the Faculty of Health and Human Services,” said Dr. Kathleen Haggith, NIC dean of health and human services. “Her wisdom and teachings profoundly affect the direction of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.”
Voyageur lived the Truth and Reconciliation principles long before they were officially established and mandated, encouraging NIC nursing students to respect Indigenous voices, traditional knowledge and values. She has worked closely with NIC instructor Joanna Fraser to lead annual field schools to Kingcome and Rivers Inlets, guiding student nurses to empower and mentor communities to use traditional knowledge and values to restore health. The field schools, which students receive academic credit for as part of the course, Health and Wellness in Aboriginal Communities (NUR-410), are developed in relationship with community — with respect for Wuikinuxv and Dzawada’enuxw protocols and knowledge.
“I really believe this experience has helped our students to be better nurses,” said Voyageur. “Where our graduates are working you hear nothing but praise. It makes me very proud.”
Voyageur’s advocacy is recognized nationwide. In addition to the Indspire Award, she earned a College of Registered Nurses of BC Lifetime Achievement Award, is the first Indigenous nurse to receive an Award of Excellence in Nursing from Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Branch, and was recently named one of the top 150 nurses across Canada. NIC alumna Dawn Tisdale, past president of the Canadian Nursing Student Association, was also named one of the top 150 nurses for Canada. Voyageur is her inspiration.
“Evelyn’s guidance, mentorship and wisdom as an Elder has deeply impacted not only my nursing practice but how I carry myself in this world,” said Tisdale. “Evelyn’s leadership and heart have inspired a generation of leaders who are changing the course of healthcare in Canada.”
In addition to her role as NIC elder-in-residence, Voyageur is active in the Vancouver Island Health Authority Aboriginal Working Group, the New Hospital Projects Aboriginal Advisory Committee, the Ministry of Children and Families Aboriginal Advisory Group, the Canadians Seeking Solutions and Innovations to Overcome Chronic Kidney Disease (Can-SOLVE CKD) network and more.
The 2018 Indspire Awards ceremony will be shown on APTN and CBC in the near future. Check out indspire.ca/indspire-awards for the most up to date information.
Learn more about NIC’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at nic.bc.ca/health-human-services.
- Indspire Award for Health, 2018
- CNA Top Nurses for Canada, 2017
- ARNBC Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017
- Health Canada’s First nations and Inuit Branch Award of Excellence in Nursing, 2005
“Evelyn has been a role model for faculty and students and we are immensely grateful for her continued commitment to nursing education at NIC and beyond.” - John Bowman, NIC president
“Evelyn is an inspiration to all of us in the Faculty of Health and Human Services. Her wisdom and teachings profoundly affect the direction of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.”- Dr. Kathleen Haggith, NIC dean, health and human services
“Evelyn has nourished our minds and our hearts through her teachings about First Nations history and lived experiences, particularly in regards to residential schools in BC and Canada. She has been instrumental in helping us develop curriculum that embraces diversity, cultural safety and social justice principles. Her influence went beyond NIC to 11 schools of nursing across BC which shared one curriculum when she joined our faculty.” - Dr. Jocelyne Van Neste-Kenny, RN (retired), PhD, NIC emeritus, former NIC dean, health and human services
“Evelyn is a strong supporter of a community-led health system. With her guidance, this field school has been developed in relationship with community – with respect for Wuikinuxv and Dzawada’enuxw protocols and knowledge. She was raising awareness about the systemic and institutionalized racism faced by Indigenous people long before these issues were in the public eye. She had the courage to speak out when there were not many people in the nursing profession taking action to reduce the stigma and oppression faced by Indigenous people.” - Joanna Fraser, RN, NIC nursing instructor
“Evelyn’s guidance, mentorship and wisdom as an Elder has deeply impacted not only my nursing practice but how I carry myself in this world. Evelyn’s leadership and heart have inspired a generation of leaders who have changed the course of healthcare in Canada. She has shifted our collective consciousness and paved the way for Indigenous nurses everywhere.” - Dawn Tisdale, RN, NIC alumna
Read Dr. Evelyn Voyageur's faculty profile.
Learn more about NIC's Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.