Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Woodsworth House Honours Shirley Olson and Phil Fontaine

by Karen Botting and Ruth Swan

Number 22, Autumn 1991

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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Earlier this year Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the late Shirley Olson, former Executive Director of the A.M.C., were honoured at a Community Leadership Awards Dinner hosted by the Woodsworth Historical Society. The dinner, held at the new Union Centre on February 28th, 1991, recognized Phil’s and Shirley’s dedication to the cause of enhancing the lives of aboriginal people. A gathering of about 130, including His Worship, Mayor Bill Norrie, and the first recipient of the award, Art Miki, joined in the celebration.

The guest speaker, judge Murray Sinclair, provided a critical analysis of The Indian Act, centering on the theme of cultural genocide of the aboriginal peoples. He also paid tribute to Shirley Olson and her contribution to the aboriginal drive for rights.

Following Judge Sinclair’s presentation, Ruth Swan, a board member of the Woodsworth House Historical Society, holding the traditional eagle feather, presented the awards to Karen Olson, accepting on behalf of Shirley Olson, and to Phil Fontaine. These Community Leadership Awards were established in 1988 by the Board of Directors of Woodsworth House to recognize contributions to public service causes in the spirit of J. S. Woodsworth. As well, the event helped raise funds for the Woodsworth House Museum and the Native community.

Several of her friends and associates paid tribute to Shirley Olson by relating accounts of her work and dedication during her short life. Janet Fontaine spoke about Shirley’s work with the aboriginal groups in the Yukon, of her decision to go to law school and of her concern for her son’s future. Moses Okama knew Shirley as a legal colleague and is now working in her place for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. Gwen Merrick, co-chair of the Original Women’s Network, described Shirley’s involvement as a founding member of their group and her dedication to women’s issues.

In making the presentation to Phil Fontaine, Ruth Swan reviewed his contribution and leadership in many of the events of the Aboriginal Solidarity Summer of 1990, including the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord in June, and read messages of support from members of the Peace Village.

Page revised: 11 April 2010

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