By Joan Black
with permission from
Theresa Stevenson, this year's recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Community Development, is best known for the hot lunch program called "Chili for Children," which she established in 1979 in a low-income neighborhood in Regina for Aboriginal school children. That program is still going strong and has expanded to three locations with new people at the helm.
What is not as well known outside Saskatchewan are the many contributions Stevenson has made on numerous boards and projects to improve Native peoples' access to housing and education. She has been involved in every aspect of community life from libraries to literacy programs to lobbying government on behalf of her people.
Her current memberships illustrate her devotion to humanitarian causes and her commitment to her own people's betterment. The 71-year-old member of Cowesses First Nation near Broadview is retired now, but is still involved with 10 committees and boards. Principally, she is the executive director of Regina Indian Community Awareness, Inc.
She also works with the public library system, her local community centre and a high school parent council, and is on the board of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Silver Sage Housing. Other involvements include the Touchwood File Hills Tribal Council Pathways Project; Regina Treaty Status Indian Services Inc.; and Wichihik Iskwewak Safe House. The fact she never got beyond a Grade 10 education has never stopped her seeking out challenges and getting the job done.
Her motivation to fight poverty and take a leadership role stemmed from the example of her grandfather, a former chief of the Cowesses Indians, who worked hard on behalf of his people. That and her own experiences with deprivation and hunger, which drove her and her husband Robert to leave their three children with relatives in 1955 and head to Wolf Point, Montana, where Robert could get work. The Stevensons lived in Montana 16 years.
Her work on housing issues began 21 years ago. Appointed executive director of the newly formed Regina Indian Community Awareness, Inc. (RICA), Stevenson began by assisting Native people moving into the urban environment in hope of a more prosperous life. Often they could not afford the lodging that was available to them. Her group forged links with the province to provide low-income houses, intially through Saskatchewan Housing.
Eventually the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations was formed and control of Native housing was turned over to the bands. The project grew beyond a few wartime houses to nearly 400 now. Silver Sage Housing employs about 15 people and has recently hired an Aboriginal general manager. Stevenson is on the housing selection committee, which give first priority to Elders and second priority to Native students.
Another project Stevenson took to heart more than 15 years ago was tackling the board of education about the demoralizing lack of success of Native students in the public school system. Indian children were not graduating; there were no Indian teachers; and there certainly were no Indian role models in the schools.
Stevenson's group, consisting of a United Church minister, two University of Regina professors, a public school teacher and herself, presented a brief to the school board requesting role models.
"If you have a vision and you are being guided from above, nothing will stand in your way," Stevenson concludes. She attributes all her successes in life to following this basic creed.
National Aboriginal Achievement Awards
with permission from
Theresa is a member of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. She is the founder of Chili for Children, which is still successful 20 years later, plus founder and longtime executive director of Regina Indian Community Awareness. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. Stevenson has also been honoured by the Regina and District Labour Council and was named 1988 Citizen of the Year by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
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