RRC elder awarded for work with indigenous women

Elder Mae Louise Campbell was the only manitoban to win an Indspire Award this year. SUPPLIED

Elder Mae Louise Campbell was the only manitoban to win an Indspire Award this year. SUPPLIED

Elder Mae Louise Campbell just won an Indspire Award, but advocating for Aboriginal rights is nothing new to her.

“At first I couldn’t believe it. I wondered why me?” Campbell said. “They told me my application was different in that most of the work I do is geared toward women and the healing of our women.”

The Indspire Awards are a national honour that recognizes indigenous youth and professionals who have shown great career achievement. Campbell — the only Manitoban on the recipient list — will go to the award gala in February to receive a Culture, Heritage and Spirituality award. The elder was also named to the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle earlier this fall.

But before the awards starting coming in, Campbell began her tenth year as an RRC elder in September.

This is the first year Indspire chose an elder whose work is mostly about healing indigenous women, according to Campbell. The journey to helping indigenous women discover who they are started with her own, she said.

“I knew focusing on women’s healing was crucial because I was also seeking my own healing,” said Campbell.

Growing up on Kississing Lake, Campbell’s mother was a midwife while her father, sisters and brothers all trapped and fished for a living.

“You’re surrounded by water, by forest — it was a very small but beautiful community,” Campbell said. “You have to remember in those years, our people were afraid to speak about their culture. They could have been charged for it.”

Because of this fear, Campbell found it hard to learn about her family and what they did.

“My mother was very silent. She wouldn’t talk about any medicines she used because she was afraid to. I didn’t learn anything except my people were a land-based people,” said Campbell.

This lack of cultural identity caused Campbell to look for answers as she grew older.

“Thirty years back when I tried to search for elders, search for ceremonies, there was nothing out there because our people were still hiding,” she said. “You couldn’t be a part of it unless the people knew and trusted.”

“It was through my own need to follow my spirit, and listen to what was happening inside of me that I knew inside me is an indigenous woman.”

In strongly knowing who she is, Campbell is able to work with women in the community, to help them find themselves as she did.

“I work with women because I firmly believe things will never change until our women are healed,” said Campbell. “The abuse has to stop and our women must take their rightful place in our community. There is no other way.”

Campbell does a lot of cultural identity work within the college, too. She works to bring cultural and traditional teachings to all students.

“This afternoon I will be sitting in on a nursing group. I will be teaching them our culture,” she said. “We teach them about the true nature of the indigenous way of being, of seeing the world and all those beautiful ways our people had at one time.”