Elder Carole Dawson, champion of Indigenous health, dies from COVID-19 in Vancouver

Carole Dawson, a longtime champion of Indigenous health and rights in B.C., has died from COVID-19, according to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC).

Dawson, who was 75 and living in a long-term care centre in Vancouver, died June 21.

A statement from the UBCIC said that Dawson played an integral role in improving both health care and child welfare for Indigenous families, and was “a champion in holding Canada accountable for the pervasive discrimination contributing to underfunded and inequitable Indigenous health-care systems.”

An elder of the Dzawada’enuxw Nation of Kingcome Inlet on B.C.’s Central Coast, she worked at the UBCIC from the organization’s early day as the health liaison officer and later as the family, children and health director. 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of UBCIC, said that Dawson, his longtime friend and colleague, was “an Elder, a language speaker, an advocate, a mother, a healer, and a guide.”

“She was deeply loved and trusted by our people … She was a powerhouse of knowledge with respect to our community and our leadership,” he said.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of UBCIC, wrote that the community has suffered an “the loss of an Elder, a language speaker, an advocate, a mother, a healer, and a guide” with the death of Carole Dawson, right. (Carole Dawson/Facebook)

Dawson was a survivor of the St. Michael’s Residential School at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, and spent much of her life helping others overcome trauma and addictions by championing culturally appropriate health care for Indigenous people.

“Carole directly experienced the trauma of the residential school experience, and intimately understood the issues that had affected our people. And that’s why she was so effective in our work,” said Phillips.

“She was a walking, living example of all of those issues.”

The statement from the UBCIC said the loss of Dawson was a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a threat to Indigenous lives and welfare.

“With Carole’s passing, we honour her immense work to improve the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples, and we pledge to continue her work in overcoming the challenges to comprehensive, culturally appropriate Indigenous health care,” it said.

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