A local humanitarian, football superstar, beloved Canadian actor, tireless Regina volunteer and generous Saskatchewan philanthropic couple are this spring’s honorary degree recipients.
“You have to remember that you are a strong young women, who deserves everything the world has to offer you. You’re going to do that through education, but more importantly, through your identity,” Noel declared through a plume of smoke from the smudge he was burning.
I was sitting in his office in the College West building, after finding out that my mother had overdosed from drugs in BC. I was an 18-years-old, first year student, with little family support and feeling alone and overwhelmed, trying to get my life together through a university education. I will never forget that defining moment for me, when Noel called me granddaughter and helped me find my courage.
“To many, he is known as a great leader, but to his students and young people, he was our grandfather, who showed us that leadership is about dedication to our community and culture, but most importantly, to the relationships we build with one another.”
Like many other students, I met Noel through the Aboriginal Student Centre (ASC), as he was the male Elder in residence. The ASC was my home away from home at the university and I began to witness him lead and speak at many cultural activities and events. As I studied him, I could not help but be drawn by his charisma: his articulate way of weaving together and conveying powerful ideas, his ease and warmth and his ability to connect with others, especially through humour.
Noel was known for his political acclaim; beginning at the young age of twenty four as Chief of his own reserve, Starblanket Cree Nation; and later climbing the political ranks to serve as the National Chief of the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations), not once, but twice. He never boasted about his political background, and always made it a point in personal conversations, to highlight his own imperfections, always as a way to show us that the most important attributes in someone, was humility and hard work. This was evident in his choice to be called a “Life Speaker” rather than Elder or Knowledge Keeper, as Noel involved himself in a multitude of activities around the University.
In 2017, he guided and performed in our student lead performance, Making Treaty Four. Before our show on the University of Regina’s mainstage, he smudged, lead a sharing circle and spoke. Through tears, he said, “The old ones dreamt of a time when young people would come together to tell our stories and, that is what you are doing today. I am so thankful to know you young people and witness this in my lifetime.”
To many, he is known as a great leader, but to his students and young people, he was our grandfather, who showed us that leadership is about dedication to our community and culture, but most importantly, to the relationships we build with one another. Noel, you will be deeply missed, but your spirit of generosity and truth will have lasting impacts on the family you built at the University.
Kinanâskomitin, pidamaya-wopida, chi-miigwetch.
Erin Goodpipe, Fourth-year Education student
Proud Dakota woman of the Oceti Sakowin or "Seven Council Fires" nation (Sioux Nation)
Former co-host of the TV show RezX
When honorary degree recipient Barb Ryan was contacted to provide a few comments about being recognized by the University of Regina, she was involved in the signature activity of her life: being "Mom" to her extended family of refugees, immigrant families and international students. In this case, she had just helped place a young refugee into the motor mechanics program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic.
"I have four kids, and I will mother anyone who will let me," she says.
Mothering her four active, growing kids - Erica, Jill, Steve, and Jon - gave her good connections with a lot of people in the community. Now, she puts these connections into action whenever one of her other "kids" needs help.
After her husband Bob died at age 54, Ryan joined the Regina Wascana branch of the Canadian Progress Club (CPC), which had provided the down payment for a settlement house for refugees. Through the club, she was introduced to the Regina Open Door Society (RODS) and the work that it does for newcomers. Ryan was deeply moved. "The stories of what these people had endured hit me hard," she says. "Their resilience is inspiring. I have such respect for these people."
Ryan has also been involved with fundraising for charities, including the Progress Club's Festival of Trees and the Champagne Classic women's golf tournament in support of the children's ward at the Regina General Hospital.
Since then, Ryan has hosted two families from Africa and a refugee family of eight from Syria, showing them the city, helping them with everyday issues and in learning English. Through them, she has met many other families in the immigrant community and been inspired to help them connect with each other. Working with CPC Regina Wascana and RODS, she started a support group called Women to Women, where members teach newcomer women a skill or craft while visiting over coffee. Through the World University Service of Canada program at the U of R, Ryan has become "mom" to students from other countries who are away from their families.
"The Syrian kids regularly come to my place to cook their traditional food. We always have a nice time eating and visiting," she says.
Ryan has also been involved with fundraising for charities, including the Progress Club's Festival of Trees and the Champagne Classic women's golf tournament in support of the children's ward at the Regina General Hospital. She is a consummate networker, using her contacts to scrounge furniture and other household necessities, arrange educational placements and find jobs for members of her extended family.
For her tireless efforts in the community, Ryan has been recognized with the 2012 Queen's Diamond Jubilee Award, the 2016 Red Cross Humanitarian Award, the Senate 150th anniversary medal and, earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal. She was delighted when University of Regina President Vianne Timmons informed her over lunch that she was to receive an honorary degree. "It's an honour, and it's lovely to have your labour of love recognized in the community," Ryan says. "I tell my grandkids we are really lucky to live here and I try to show them we have to share; we have to give back."
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