Willy Hodgson: Saskatchewan nurse stood with pride and dignity as an Aboriginal woman.
Hodgson was very proud of her Plains Cree heritage and it was her desire that all First Nation people across Canada should feel that pride in their race.
She was inspired by the work of her uncle, Edward Ahenakew, who had earned a degree in theology and had spent three years in university studying to become a doctor before health problems forced him to give up his studies. Ahenakew spent much of his life as a missionary within First Nation communities in Saskatchewan, providing care for the sick while working to meet the spiritual needs of the people he served.
Following Ahenakew's example, Hodgson wanted to do what she could to improve the lives of Native people. She decided to train to become a nurse, and in 1953 enrolled in the Manitoba School of Nursing in Portage la Prairie. She graduated three years later, making her one of the first Aboriginal women in the country to become a registered psychiatric nurse.
It was while she was in Portage la Prairie that she met Bill Hodgson. The couple married and went on to have four children--Billy, Dean, Heather and Fern. The family lived in Manitoba and Quebec, then settled in Moose Jaw in 1967.
In the mid-1960s, Hodgson returned to school, completing a certificate in social work at the University of Regina. During her studies she completed a practicum at Moose Jaw Legal Aid. It was during this practicum that she realized the judicial system needed to be changed to eliminate bias against Aboriginal people. That became another avenue she pursued in her efforts to improve the lives of Aboriginal people.
While her Uncle Edward had inspired her to become a nurse, Hodgson also followed her uncle on his spiritual path and dedicated herself to works within the Anglican Church. She chaired the church's Council for Native Ministries, now known as the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and was a member of the General Synod held in Waterloo, Ont. in 2001 where she was elected to the national eco-justice committee.
Like many of the people from Ahtahkakoop, she found a way to combine the Anglican faith with traditional religious beliefs, and helped form a bridge between the two. She strongly believed that everyone is equal in the eyes of God, and treated every person she met with kindness and respect, regardless of their station in life.
Hodgson was a very caring person, which was one of many of personal characteristics that combined to make her an excellent nurse. Her caring ways also served her well in a number of other professional roles she took on throughout her career, including social worker, rehabilitation-co-ordinator, therapist and employment counsellor.
Hodgson's concern for the people in her care was so great that when individuals had to be removed from their homes and there were no suitable placements available for them, she would take them into her own home. Some of these stays were short, while others lasted years, even decades, with these people becoming part of the Hodgson family.
Hodgson also did her part to increase the number of Aboriginal people employed by the provincial and federal governments, working for both the Saskatchewan Public Service Commission and the Public Service Commission of Canada. She was also involved with the Interprovincial Association on Native Employment, which works to promote employment opportunities for Native people, and was the first women to serve as the organization's president.
She was also involved in the federal government's efforts to develop alternative dispute resolution processes to deal with residential compensation claims, offering her services as a Native Elder and facilitator.
Hodgson gave her time to a number of organizations, including the Angus Campbell Centre, a residential detox centre, and Moose Jaw Transition House, a shelter for women and children. Other organizations Hodgson was involved with included the Moose Jaw Aboriginal Women's Association, the Saskatchewan Mental Health Association, the Association for Community Living, the John Howard Society, Moose Jaw Legal Aid, the United Way and Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, now the First Nations University of Canada. She was a member of the Saskatchewan Legal Aid Commission and the Moose Jaw Police Commission and, in 1997, she was appointed as a lay bencher of the Law Society of Saskatchewan, a role she served in until 2001.
Hogdson received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1994, the highest honor bestowed by the province of Saskatchewan, given to recognize excellence, achievement and contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the province and its people.
In 1998, the Moose Jaw YM/YWCA and Transition House presented her with a Women of Distinction Award in recognition of her work on Aboriginal issues and her role as a community mentor through her work with a number of local organizations, including the United Way, the Moose Jaw Housing Authority and the Thunder Creek Rehabilitation Association.
In 2002, she was named a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of a lifetime of dedication to improving the lives of Aboriginal people.
Hodgson's dedication was recognized in yet another way in 2002, when the common area of a newly renovated seniors housing complex in Moose Jaw was christened The Willy Hodgson Life Enhancement Centre.
In recognition of Hodgson's work to promote equality and diversity in the administration of justice for Aboriginal people in Saskatchewan, the Law Society of Saskatchewan created the C. Willy Hodgson Award, presented to an individual or organization that, like Hodgson herself, exemplifies integrity, leadership and character and has helped advance equity and diversity in legal education, the legal profession or the administration of justice.
Hodgson died on, Feb. 14, 2003, at the age of 67 following a long battle with cancer. Those who knew Hodgson best remember her as a very intelligent and articulate woman who always found a way to see the good side of people.
Among her final words to her children was a reminder for them to stand tall, to be proud of who they were, to be proud of their Native heritage. This was a philosophy she had tried to instill in all the Aboriginal people she'd worked with throughout her life. As a Native woman who always stood tall, who never gave up and who blazed a trail for those who followed, she led by example.