Making a Difference at the AHF
with permission from
Perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in life is having to say no.
For Yvonne Marie Boyer, the occasions when she can say yes, make up for all the times she has had to decline a proposal.
Boyer is the Director of Programs for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Ottawa, and is on the forefront of decision-making which deal with the allocation of the foundation's $350 million healing fund to aid the victims of the residential school system which operated in Canada from the 1870's to the early 1980's.
"People sometimes don't understand that we just don't hand out money to those who ask for it," says Boyer. "We carefully assess needs and plans that have the best chance to help the most people."
While Boyer has only been at the post since October of 1999, she brings to her job a wealth of experience from her roots in Saskatchewan, and her own experiences working with those who have suffered directly and indirectly from the residential school system.
Boyer was born and raised in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and began her professional career as a nurse at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta in the 1970's. After working there for many years, she returned home to be close to her family in Moose Jaw.
She soon found herself as the single parent of three small children. She, like many Native people, faced racism and the trouble one can have when dealing with legal and government bureaucracies.
"I learned that the family law system left lots to be desired," says Boyer. "I knew then that someone needed to do work to change the system, but I never thought that I would be the one that would have the chance to do something about it."
Boyer decided that she needed to make a change in her life, and began in a new direction. She enrolled in night classes, studying arts and sciences and majoring in sociology. In 1991, Boyer entered the University of Saskatchewan's Summer Program for Native students, and was hooked.
Boyer enrolled in the law program at Dalhousie University where she stayed until she transfered back to Saskatchewan in 1993 to complete her law degree, graduating with an LL.B in 1996.
While in Saskatchewan Boyer articled under the now Honourable Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who proved to be an inspiration for her.
"She was great to work for, and I had big ideals-I wanted to make the world better," says Boyer. "I wanted to eliminate the gender inequities I saw existing in the legal system, as well as tackling the issue of racism in the justice system."
Boyer soon gained some valuable experience as she became the director of the Saskatoon Tribal Council's justice department.
"There was really no justice department to run so we had to develop the system and program almost from scratch," she remembers. Boyer worked to develop programs to deal with youth justice issues, such as alternative sentencing programs.
She began to work with Native Elders in the Saskatoon Tribal Council, and with justice officials and helped reintroduce sentencing circles as alternatives to the courts.
While working with STC's urban services Boyer came into direct contact with the generational effects of the residential school system.
"There is a real impact on Saskatoon's west side," says Boyer. "There are young prostitutes, who are sent to work by their mothers, who themselves were victims of sexual and physical abuse in the residential schools."
Her work at the STC had a major affect on her and she wanted to be involved with work that could make a difference in the lives of people and break the cycle of violence and poverty that grips so many families.
Boyer has served on numerous boards and committees including the FSIN Justice Council, the Clarence Campeau Development Fund, the Aboriginal Women and Violence Working Group, and the STC Committee on Alternatives to Litigation by Residential School Survivors.
While with the STC, Boyer gained valuable experience in developing community and urban-based justice programming for the tribal council's seven member bands.
Boyer has many achievements to her name including winning the Harvey Bell Memorial Prize for academic achievement in law school, and a certificate of achievement for her work with the Clarence Campeau Development Fund in recognition of her contribution to Saskatchewan's Metis people in fostering economic development.
Boyer believes that anyone, no matter who they are can make a difference. She says that this philosophy came to her when she was attending school as a girl.
"One of my teachers was from Trinidad. She was small, short, she was missing an arm, and had a huge birthmark on her face, but she never let it get in the way of who she was inside as a person. She gave me a gift that I'll never forget by teaching me by example through her zest for life that we are all the same inside and that we all have potential."
Boyer says that her teacher always concentrated on the positive things in life and saw the goodness in people.
"She taught me to have faith in myself and taught me to wake up every morning and be thankful for what I had."
Today, Boyer loves the opportunity she has to make a difference in the lives of others with her work at the foundation.
"Our work while difficult at times, is always rewarding. It's good to make a difference."