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Saskatchewan Loses Esteemed Health Advocate

Doug Cuthand

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      WINTER 1997      v27 n04 p21  
Recently my family and Saskatchewan Indians lost a dear friend. My aunt, Jean Goodwill, died after a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer.

My aunt lived a life of service to both her people and the health profession. Over the years she obtained recognition with an Order of Canada, an honourary degree from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award.

While her public achievements brought her national fame her family remembers another person. Shortly after she was born, her mother died and she was adopted by my grandparents. She was cared for with love and nurturing like any member of the family. She was a little girl who struggled with her health. She caught tuberculosis and spent several years at the sanatorium in Prince Albert.

It was after her time at the sanatorium that she studied to be a nurse at the Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert. In 1954 she graduated to become one of the country's first Indian Registered Nurses.

After graduation she went to La Ronge where she and an aid provided the primary health care for the community. The first year she was there, she delivered over 50 babies, removed numerous fishhooks from kids and tourists and attended to a wide variety of other health needs.

She once told me that her work as a public health nurse was an exhausting and frustrating experience. The health problems in Indian communities were largely caused by poverty and poor living conditions. No amount of work on her part would change that. What was needed was changes to government policy and political action.

Her career as a front line health care worker gave her a lifelong appreciation for the need to improve First Nations living conditions and our community health. She worked for the Department of Indian Affairs and the Department of National Health and Welfare. In 1979 she was appointed as Special Advisor to Monique Begin, the Minister of Health to work with the Minister and First Nations and improve health programs. She attacked the problem and her legacy lives on with greater understanding between the two groups.

She was an organizer and she worked at both the political and educational levels to bring about change. She was a founding member of the Native Women's Association of Canada, a past president of the Indian and Inuit Nurses Association of Canada and a past president of the Canadian Society for Circumpolar Health. She also worked with the University of Saskatchewan to assist in the development of the Indian and Inuit Access Program to Nursing and the health sciences program at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

She wanted Indian health professionals who were trained professionals and shared her passion and understanding for their people.

She and her husband, Ken Goodwill lived in Ottawa for a number of years. In recent years she retired from the civil service and she and Ken moved to his reserve, Standing Buffalo near Fort Qu'Appelle. Ken worked for the Band Council in various capacities while Jean became a lecturer and teacher at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in Regina.

But health problems began to plague her. She suffered a badly broken leg and her tuberculosis made a return, flaring up in the glands in her neck. This was followed by leukaemia that eventually killed her.

Her death was expected but nevertheless not easy to take. She died quietly in her sleep at 5:30 in the morning, Monday, August 25.

Referring to her early life, my father told me that when someone struggles so hard to live, there must be a reason for it.

My aunt had both a hard life and a good life and she never stopped working for her people. Her life had a purpose and she made the most of it.