Lorraine M. Wright was completely stunned when she got the call recognizing her as a member of the Order of Canada.
“I don’t drink coffee, but my hands were actually trembling when they told me the news,” she told The Current guest host Nahlah Ayed. “It was pretty, pretty overwhelming.”
The former nurse and author is one of 85 new appointees to the Order of Canada this year. It’s one of the country’s highest civilian honours — and this year’s list includes Canada’s first Indigenous female MP, Ethel Blondin-Andrew; and sports legends Angela James and Donovan Bailey.
Wright, who’s being recognized for her leadership in nursing and other health professions, said it’s an incredible privilege to be celebrated in this way by her peers.
“I have to say that to get such an honour from my own country that I love so much is really quite overwhelming and emotional,” she said.
Changing perceptions around family suffering
In 1982, Wright started an outpatient clinic at the University of Calgary called the Family Nursing Unit. The purpose of the clinic was to provide holistic care to the entire family when a patient has a serious illness — a unique concept in a field that often just focused on the individual, according to Wright.
“I worked with masters and doctoral students there because I really wanted nursing to embrace working with families,” she said.
“I thought the best way to do that is to have a clinic where they could see families and I could supervise them … so that they would develop particular clinical skills and knowledge about families.”
As more students started to graduate, the requests for guests to visit the clinic started to increase. Soon, the clinic started holding an externship once a year to allow people from all over the world to visit and learn about the work happening there.
“And then, the invitations started coming … for me to go and lecture and do workshops in various parts of the world,” Wright said.
Wright, who has since retired from the university, is still trying to spread family nursing globally. She’s visited 81 countries to date and has done lectures in more than 30 of them.
She said it’s been a privilege to be able to interview different families around the world, calling it a “great learning experience.”
“What I’ve found that’s universal … suffering is universal,” she said. “But there are different ideas about how to manage the suffering and different beliefs about it.”
Parminder Raina challenges ideas about aging
Like Wright, geroscience researcher Parminder Raina is also being recognized with the Order of Canada for his work in health and medicine.
“The work I have done is not done alone; it’s with collaborations with many people across the country,” the scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging told Ayed. “It has been quite a journey and I’m blessed in so many ways.”
Raina, who immigrated to Canada from India in 1981, has done groundbreaking research on aging. His main work is the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a massive data collection tracking 50,000 participants “that sort of identified challenges with mental health and pandemic restrictions that were imposed.”
“All of that information actually led to some of the discussions that were happening in the background at [the] Public Health Agency of Canada,” he said. “Hopefully, some of the decisions they are making or they made were based on some of our data.”
They are like a flower, they actually bring colour to our communities … and in order for that flower to flourish, we as a community have to support them.-Parminder Raina, geroscience researcher, on seniors aging in place
Raina said the pandemic brought key issues with ageism — both in the long-term care sector and the general public — to the forefront. It also forced policy-makers and the government to have more dialogue about how to better support older people in their own communities.
He hopes his research will continue to change some of the misconceptions some people have about aging and the health of seniors.
“I think that’s the lesson — that a lot of older people do age in a healthy fashion,” he said. “They engage in all sorts of life activities. They are not all sick and just at the end of their life.”
“They are like a flower, they actually bring colour to our communities … and in order for that flower to flourish, we as a community have to support them.”
The Crowshoes preserve Blackfoot culture
Order of Canada honours aren’t exactly new for the Crowshoes — but that doesn’t make it any less exciting for elders Reg and Rosemary Crowshoe.
“I remembered when my father-in-law and mother-in-law got the award. We were so excited for them,” Rosemary Crowshoe told The Current.
“I never dreamt or imagined that we would be the next recipients.”
The Crowshoes are being recognized for their commitment to reconciliation and preserving Blackfoot culture.
Reg Crowshoe, who’s a former chief and spiritual leader from Piikani First Nation in Southern Alberta, said one of the keys to reconciliation is to include Blackfoot principles when discussing reconciliation.
We need to be able to put our values and principles in systems that we work with today so that we can look at reconciliation.-Elder Reg Crowshoe
This includes the belief that all creation is equal and no creation is stronger than the other, which defines part of Blackfoot culture.
“We believe in an oral system and use an oral system, and we live in a written default system today — and unfortunately, the written default system imposes on the oral system,” he said.
“We need to be able to put our values and principles in systems that we work with today so that we can look at reconciliation.”
Rosemary Crowshoe said Canada Day is “a day for celebration for the people that have been here for thousands and thousands of years and the newcomers.”
She and her husband hope everyone gets a chance to celebrate the “beautiful country” that is Canada.
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Enza Uda and Niza Lyapa Nondo.