Gloria Mehlmann loves the U of R mainly because of the value she places on education. Access to a good education is a theme that runs through Mehlmann’s life story. She grew up on the Cowessess First Nation and first attended a day school located on the nearby Kahkewistahaw First Nation, completing her Grade 8 at a day school at Cowessess.
“My parents and oldest brother attended Round Lake Residential School in the Qu’Appelle Valley. Because of the physical and psychological abuses they endured, they refused to allow me and my younger siblings to attend any boarding school,” Mehlmann explains.
She attended grades nine and ten at Ardith and Assiniboia High School before moving to Regina. She had hoped to complete high school at Regina’s Central Collegiate, but had to attend Balfour Collegiate, a technical school where courses like sewing and home economics, “went against my grain,” she says. She left Balfour, choosing to complete her Grade 12 through the province’s correspondence school. She says of her choice to pursue teaching as one of the best decisions of her professional life.
Mehlmann taught at four schools in the Regina Public Schools system from 1962 to 1983, and was later seconded to serve as the director of Research and Development with the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, now First Nations University of Canada.
As the director of Aboriginal Education for the provincial Department of Education from 1994 to 2004, she oversaw the integration of Indigenous perspectives and content into the K-12 curriculum.
She also served as a member and chair of the Regina Public Library board and was the provincial library trustees association representative to the University of Regina Senate.
Mehlmann has always wanted to write. At 12, she had a poem titled “To Grandma” published in the Winnipeg Free Press. “I had read the poetry of E. Pauline Johnson in school, and since I liked poetry, wrote the little verse,” she recalls. “That was major, for me.”
Her book, Gifted to Learn, is a memoir of her teaching career that was published in 2008, because, “every day provided a treasure trove of learning opportunities.” She then turned to creative writing, publishing a collection of stories titled Adam’s Tree, which is based on growing up on Cowessess First Nation and seeing the firsthand impacts of Indian Act policies and residential schooling.
She also read a lot, writers like Doris Lessing, Susanna Moodie, and Alice Munro “who revealed magical things in everyday existence.” She still enjoys rereading the works of her Saskatchewan mentors, writers like Dianne Warren, and Saskatchewan poets.
In 2005 Mehlmann received the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in recognition of her contributions to education, libraries, and community development. She describes the award as an incredible honour, as is receiving an honorary degree. “I’m not sure what I will say to the graduates at the ceremony, but it will be about my love of learning, and it will be from my heart.”
Mehlmann received an honorary Doctor of Letters on June 15.