Brock University chancellor Shirley Cheechoo (far left) was named to the Order of Canada.
It’s a Christmas she won’t soon forget. Brock University Chancellor Shirley Cheechoo, an award-winning actress, artist, playwright and filmmaker, has been awarded the Order of Canada. The announcement came on Boxing Day from Governor-General Julie Payette.
One of the country’s highest honours, the Order of Canada recognizes Canadians whose service shapes society, whose innovations ignite imaginations and whose compassion unites communities.
Cheechoo said she was shocked when she received the call notifying her she was to receive the honour. “I didn’t know what to say, it was a very moving moment,” she said earlier this week. “It’s absolutely a tremendous honour to be given the Order of Canada.”
Although she does not know who nominated her, Cheechoo said she is very grateful and thankful for the nomination. She said she is also thankful for the work she gets to do with young people. “To be recognized for the work you do is a real commemorate.”
A member of the Cree nation, Cheechoo made history in July 2015 when she was the first woman and first Indigenous Canadian to be appointed to the ceremonial leadership role of Chancellor of Brock University.
Cheechoo is the founder and executive director at Weengushk Film Institute, a not-forprofit film and television training centre on central Ontario’s Manitoulin Island that helps Indigenous and at-risk youths develop career skills or return to school. Weengushk offers programs in conjunction with Brock University, making it the first program of its kind to be accredited by a Canadian university.
A widely recognized artist, Cheechoo’s paintings have been displayed in such venues as the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont. Her most significant acclaim has been for a portfolio of stage work and films shaped by her First Nations background, which have led to honours at the Sundance Film Festival and the American Indian Film Festival.
Her 2012 film Moose River Crossing examines the scars left on several characters who — like Cheechoo herself — are survivors of the residential school system.
Brock University President Gervan Fearon said Cheechoo is “a perfect candidate” to receive the prestigious Order of Canada. “Chancellor Cheechoo has brought an outstanding presence, insight and example to our university,” said Fearon. “Her strength and leadership have had a tremendous effect on the Brock community. She is a huge inspiration and we are extremely proud of her.”
Scott Henderson, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Pop Culture and Film, has worked closely helping structure the courses at Weengushk. He praised Cheechoo’s selflessness in drawing on her own experiences to help others find their path. “I have seen how she works with students who have often struggled to find their ways, and under her guidance, they have found their voice and gained new confidence,” said Henderson.
Gary Comerford, Chair of Brock’s Board of Trustees, said trustees will be delighted to learn of this week’s announcement. “Chancellor Cheechoo has made significant contributions to Canada and to Brock University,” said Comerford.
During her installation ceremony as Brock’s Chancellor in 2015, Cheechoo told the hushed audience about the importance for Canadians to be educated about Aboriginal people. She spoke of her own journey as a residential school survivor who struggled throughout her life, then found art and made it a path to becoming an accomplished filmmaker, writer and visual artist.
“I took this position (at Brock) to make a difference,” she said, “and I worked hard to move beyond old racial wounds. Healing is the first step on the road to empowerment.”
Cheechoo will receive the award from the Governor General during a ceremony at Rideau Hall at a later date.