By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – Metis activist Muriel Stanley Venne has received many awards over her long and influential career, but the latest may have the most personal connection of them all.
She made that connection in being recognized as a “Distinguished Citizen,” and accepting the Honourary Bachelor of Arts Degree from Grant MacEwan University.
“This extraordinary honour is more meaningful because I actually knew Grant MacEwan (the late politician, author and former Alberta lieutenant-governor after whom the university is named). Many years ago I invited him as one keynote speaker to join Adrian Hope (the late legendary Alberta Metis Elder) at the Metis Settlements General Council. He refused my offer to pay for a plane ticket from Calgary and insisted on taking the Greyhound bus.
”I mention Adrian Hope because they could have been twins: same age, same tall lanky frame, same sense of humour and a match in conversation and wit . . . Adrian Hope in writing poetry about the Metis, and Grant MacEwan in his book written about the life story of Victoria Calihoo, a pioneer entrepreneurial Native woman who lived at Lac Ste. Anne not far from here.”
Métis, born at Lamont, Alberta, mother of four grown children and grandmother of three, Muriel achieved her University entrance by correspondence in order to attain her B.ED; attended at the University of Alberta for three years then left her studies to work for the Métis Association of Alberta as Department Head for Job Opportunities and Placement.
Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed appointed her as one of the first seven Commissioners of the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 1973 where she served for four years; she was Executive Director of Native Outreach for 10 years, working in employment for Aboriginal people in the province; as Bechtel Canada’s Community Relations for the Alsands Project; Coordinator of the Métis Settlement Carpentry Training Program and General Manager, Settlement Sooniyaw Corporation; then Marketing Officer for the National Film Board in Edmonton. As Project Manager for Western Aboriginal Development Alliance “Stronger Together” an Aboriginal Strategic Initiatives project, it became one the most successful Human Resource projects in Canada.
Currently she chairs the Aboriginal Commission on Human Rights & Justice and was instrumental in producing “The Rights Path – Alberta” a holistic booklet produced to inform Aboriginal people of their human rights now in its third edition. In November 1998 she presented the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson with “The Rights Path – Alberta” in Hobbema, Alberta, referring to the racism involved in the Connie and Ty Jacobs killingby an RCMP officer at the T’suu Tina First Nation. She continues to bring Aboriginal human rights issues to the forefront!
Muriel received The 1998 Alberta Human Rights Award December 10th, 1998 on the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights.
As President and Founder of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women she works tirelessly and lends her expertise on the issues confronting Aboriginal Women. Under her leadership, IAAW created the Esquao Awards, a province wide recognition for Aboriginal Women. This annual event has grown to attract more than 1,000 people each year, bringing government, corporation and community representatives together to honour the significant accomplishments of Aboriginal Women.
“Over the last 15 years we have honoured more than 300 First Nations and Metis women from 74 communities in this province. ‘Esquao’ is the stylized version of the Cree word for women. This beautiful word was reclaimed so that the word ‘squaw’ would never ever be used because being called a squaw is dehumanizing and always derogatory,” Stanley Venne said in accepting the award.
“Our Esquao Awards are community driven. The Community nominates and the Institute honours them for their strength and beauty. We are unique in the entire world in honouring the Indigenous women of this province. I was very pleased that our Prime Minister vowed to pay attention to the wellbeing of women and children in developing countries, to me it only made sense that the dire conditions experienced by First Nations and Métis people become a priority and bring about the equality of services and investment in the elimination of generations of discrimination, prejudice and racism. It sounds expensive to bring about equality but I put it to you that not taking this action will be far more expensive.”
She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and is a lifetime member of the Canadian Native Friendship Centre. She received the Queen’s Medal in 2002 and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2004 for her work in bringing Justice to the Aboriginal community. Muriel has delivered speeches across Canada on human rights, achieving social justice and on violence against Aboriginal Women. She has inspired many to follow their dreams and stand up for what they believe in. In 2005 she received the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Commemorative Medal in honour of the Person’s Case and the Alberta Government Centennial Medal.
In 2006 she received the Integrity Award from the Rotary Clubs in Edmonton, Alberta and the YWCA Lois Hole Lifetime Achievement Award. Alberta Venture Magazine named her as one of the 2006 50 most influential people in Alberta. In February 2007 she was honoured as Global Woman of Vision. In November 2007 Canadian Ambassador McNee recognized her work at the United Nations citing her as a “Human Rights Defender” pertaining to Aboriginal women, children and families.
In September 2008 she was elected Provincial Vice-President of the Métis Nation of Alberta.