Meet Irene Morin, a resilient Indigenous woman who, after overcoming hardship and adversity at a young age, rose to become a celebrated community leader.
Throughout her lifetime Irene has demonstrated an indomitable spirit, resilience and optimism. She is fiercely proud of her culture, her people and her community; she has tirelessly dedicated herself to building bridges and advancing the interests of Indigenous peoples.
Today, Irene Morin is an elder of the Enoch Cree Nation. She is a survivor of the Blue Quills Indian Residential School in Alberta, and credits the institution for providing her an educational foundation.
In 1970, after grassroots protests and demonstrations, Blue Quills won its fight to become the first school officially administered by Indigenous representatives. Now called University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills, the school is an example of a successful, independent Indigenous educational institution – with a mandate to “advance and protect Indigenous forms of life and thinking through teaching, research and community service, guided by the natural laws of the Cree people and grounded in the Cree language.”
Widowed at a young age, Irene was left to raise five children on her own. Despite such challenges early in life, she went on to build a successful career.
Irene’s extensive career included working in the 1960s for what was then the Department of Indian affairs, and later for the Edmonton Separate School Board, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, Native Friendship Center, the Senate of Canada in Ottawa, and for the Enoch Cree Nation for nearly 30 years.
Irene has been recognized for her outstanding contribution to her community and province.
In 2017, she received both the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Senate of Canada 150th Anniversary Medal.
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal was awarded by the Governor-General of Canada to “those who have made outstanding and exemplary contributions to their communities or to Canada as a whole.”
The Senate 150th Medal recognized those who, “through generosity, dedication, volunteerism and hard work, make their hometowns, communities, regions, provinces or territories a better place to live,” and “outstanding individuals” whose work reflects the “values of diversity, acceptance, generosity, fairness and equality.”
As reflected by these accolades, Irene has throughout her life led vital initiatives and enriched the lives of those in her community.
She was the founder and driving force behind the Annual Aboriginal Role Models of Alberta Awards for more than 20 years. Though officially retired, Irene still volunteers for causes close to her heart, including the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters and the World Indigenous Games. She was instrumental in bringing the Games to the Enoch Cree Nation.
Former Senator Grant Mitchell noted, “Her eloquence, compassion and dedication to helping others shine through in all that she does.”
About Enoch Cree Nation
Enoch Cree Nation is a progressive and proud First Nation situated in Treaty 6 territory in central Alberta, bordering the city of Edmonton’s west side. The community has a population of more than 1,750. Its Cree name, Maskêkosihk (pronounced Muss-Kay-Go-Sik), means “people of the land of medicine.” The Nation “actively seek[s] to preserve and promote [its] culture, language, history and spirituality while advancing the economic, education, health and social wellbeing of [its] people.” The community has a population of more than 1,750.
Notably, the Nation officially opened its new water pump house system in 2019. The project, which connects Enoch Cree Nation to Edmonton’s water system and ensures sustainable access to safe drinking water, was completed in partnership with the federal government. As Chief Billy Morin notes, “This project directly closes a fundamental gap in the quality of life between Canadians and Enoch Cree Nation families. Furthermore, this project provided 18,000 hours of employment to 38 Enoch member employees, and is the foundation for our residential and commercial development vision.”
The Nation recently celebrated the grand opening of its Maskêkosak Kiskinomâtowikamik K-12 school in September 2019. The school features a unique learning environment and curriculum specifically tailored to the Enoch Nation including Cree language education and a focus on land-based learning. The school states that it has focused goals that extend to its community and beyond including:
- Ongoing guidance and support from Maskêkosihk kehtêayak.
- Reclaiming our Maskêkosak heritage and principled ways of knowing.
- The creation of fluent Nêhiyaw language speakers.
- Continuous academic improvement and success for all students.
- Students who demonstrate a clear understanding of Maskêkosihk Nêhiyawak Foundational Principles.
- A quality learning program that exceeds regional, provincial and national standards.
- The school as the heart of the community.