Earlier this month, long-time Indigenous rights leader IreneFraser was recognized for her many years of work by investiture into the Orderof Canada.
“I know it sounds trite,” she said, laughing, in aninterview with the Anglican Journal, “butthere are so many wonderful people behind me who deserved as much recognition,or more, than I did. But it was certainly something that I was honoured toreceive.”
Her recipient citation, issued by the governor general’soffice, lists among her accomplishments her work with the John Howard Society andthe National Parole Board and with “government commissions and the boards ofmany social service organizations,” but it is for her work as an advocate for IndigenousCanadians and with the Indian residential school claims process that she is mostwell known, and of which she is most proud.
“It was wonderful work to be able to do-the kind of workthat gave you the feeling that it had the potential to make a difference in thelives of the aboriginal people who were coming to the hearings,” said Fraser.
A member of the Métis nation, Fraser worked hard during theIndian residential schools claims process to ensure that adjudicators weretrained to be sensitive and respectful in their dealings with claimants. Thisincluded ensuring that claimants were allowed to smudge beforehand if they sodesired, had access to interpreters and were provided with support during theprocess.
Fraser had a personal connection to the work as well-herfather attended a residential school. “Some of the issues that I heard aboutwhen I was reading some of the decisions that came in, or when I was at thehearings, certainly gave a much more in-depth understanding of my father andhow it is that we had grown up,” she said.
Fraser, who was confirmed as an Anglican and who worked withthe national church in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said she was “reallyproud” of the role that the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada played in the claims process.
“The Anglican Church and the United Church just stood out athearings. I was at many hearings, and every time one of the representativesfrom those two churches spoke, it gave a really healing piece to theclaimants,” she said. “It gave a very warm feeling to the hearing itself.”
The Order of Canada is awarded based on nominations and “recognizesoutstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to thenation…[and] recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society.” Since itsinception in 1967, over 6,000 Canadians have received it.