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Through the 20th century, Indigenous men and women began to break down barriers that had been put up over decades by governments and organizations. From becoming senators, soldiers, Members of Parliament and more, I have featured several on my podcast and today I am looking at the life of Jean Cuthand Goodwill.

We will get to the impact that Goodwill had on Indigenous culture, but first lets start at the beginning.

Born on Aug. 14, 1928 at Poundmaker Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Goodwill’s father was John Tootoosis, the grandson of Yellow Mud Blanket, who was the brother of legendary leader Poundmaker. Tootoosis would himself go on to become an activist after he was appointed as the chief of his band, something the Canadian government refused to recognize. Goodwill’s mother would sadly pass away shortly after Goodwill was born.

Raised by Harriet and Jose Cuthand on the Little Pine First Nation afterwards. It was with Harriet that Goodwill would find a role model.

Goodwill would say in 1970, quote:

“I have two families and am close to all members.”

Harriet served as the midwife and medicine woman for the area, and delivered several babies on both First Nations. It was through Harriet that Goodwill would be inspired to be a health worker. Jose was a refugee of the North West Rebellion and he encouraged Goodwill in her studies and in the importance of education.

In the forward of a book about her father John Tootoosis, she would write, quote:

“I knew in my early years that John was my father. I did not question why. Where I came from into the family scene is ours to know and for others to guess.”

She would say later in life in 1986, quote:

“The things he did weren’t always popular. He was always on the backs of governments and bureaucrats. But when you look back at some of the recommendations he made, teaching Indian languages in schools, for example, they are just being implemented now. He was way ahead of his time in terms of what education should be.”

After attending Little Pine School, she would move to Saskatoon where she attended Bedford Road Collegiate. At the school, she was the only Indigenous student and she would feel a great deal of isolation as a result. She would say later:

“In some ways it was difficult. You become a loner and then when I went into nursing, I was again the only Indian person.”

Unfortunately, she would be forced to leave school when she developed tuberculosis. For the next three years of her life, she would be at the Prince Albert Sanitorium, where she completed her high school diploma while confined to her bed.

After the experience of living through tuberculosis, she was more inspired to become a nurse.

Attending the Holy Family Hospital in Prince Albert, she graduated in 1954. In her graduation, she became the first Indigenous registered nurse in the history of Saskatchewan and one of the first in Canadian history.

Her first posting as a nurse would be at the Fort Qu’Appelle Indian Hospital. After her time there, she would work at a nursing station at La Ronge.

In La Ronge, she worked as a driver and nurse’s aid and was required to serve a huge area of rural Saskatchewan. These services included delivering babies, responding to emergencies, pulling fish hooks out of tourists and inoculating children. She would often travel to help patients in an emergency through the use of a bush plane or dog team. As for the fish hooks, she developed a large collection from the times she took them out of children, American tourists and once, even a dog.

Years later, Goodwill would write, quote:

“My knowledge of Cree language and appreciation of the lifestyle was a tremendous asset, particularly when direct communication was required while performing my professional duties.”

During her time in La Ronge, the Valley Echo, what would be the Saskatchewan Lung Association Magazine years later, would call her the prettiest nurse in Northern Saskatchewan. She would also be crowned the Fur Queen of the North at the 12th Annual Manitoba Trappers Festival at The Pas.

In 1984, Goodwill would write about working with other nurses in Indigenous communities, quote:

“I am amazed how well the non-native nurses, with their high ideals, their curiosity, determination and strong sense of responsibility, managed to cope with the adversity they encountered in this setting. To some extent the scenery, terrain, serenity and silence comforted the nurses trying to deal with the devastation that resulted from imposition of another way of life on Canada’s Aboriginal people.”

Exhausted by her work, she would move to Bermuda to work for a year to work at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

She would say later in life, quote:

“After two years in an outpost where I was delivering babies and doing everything conceivable that can happen in an isolated place, I needed an escape hatch. So I worked a year as a nurse in Bermuda.”

She returned to Canada with a new mission, improving the conditions for the Indigenous, rather than just providing health services as a band-aid solution.

She would say later, quote:

“I thought I could do more for my people there than by staying on in nursing.”

To that end, she would become the executive director of the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre based out of Winnipeg in 1963. She then became the co-editor of the Indian News, and also developed Tawwow, a magazine that covered Indigenous culture. The name of the magazine comes from the Cree phrase for “There is room” or “Welcome”

Speaking of creating her magazine, she would say quote:

“It was a fascinating experience but to this day bureaucracy still puzzles me. I found out you can work it though if you have to.”

On Nov. 28, 1965, she would marry Ken Goodwill, who was from Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation, and the couple soon moved to Ottawa. They would adopt two children.

After spending a few years with the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Goodwill returned to health care and she wanted to support young nurses.

In 1974, she would cofound Indian and Inuit Nurses of Canada, and served as its president from 1983 to 1990.

In 1978, she became a nursing consultant for the medical services division of Health and Welfare Canada, and also became an advisor to Lyall Black, the assistant deputy minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

She would then become the coordinator of the Native Women and Native Youth Program in the Secretary of State’s Citizenship Branch. Explaining why she joined the program, she would state quote:

“That’s what my experience had been all about. I saw the way they were treated when I was in nursing. If any group of women were downtrodden and discriminated against, it was the Indian women. The woman’s loss of Indian status if she marries a white man is just one example.”

In 1981, she was appointed as the special advisor to Monique Begin, the Minister of Health. Goodwill would say, quote:

“She always said she wanted to do at least two major things before she left the ministry in Indian health. So I think that through talking to her and telling her what the needs are, she did accomplish two things. One was to find enough funds to set up the Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, and the second was to set up a health career program for Native student.”

That same year, she was presented with the first Jean Goodwill Award, created in her honour by the Manitoba Indian Nurses Association.

Goodwill would also establish the Native Access Program to Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan.

After 20 years in Ottawa, she would return to Saskatchewan. She would write, quote:

“My return to Saskatchewan has renewed my interest and given me the opportunity to make an initial observation on health issues for people of Indian ancestry. Without a doubt, plenty of room exists for improvements on all fronts.”

In 1997, the Regina Leader-Post would write of her, quote:

“During her 20 year career with the federal government, Goodwill was instrumental in developing health and social policies for Indian people.”

On Aug. 25, 1997, she would pass away from cancer in Regina.

A quote from an interview in 1992 in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix helps sum up the impact that she has had in Canada. She would say, quote:

“Now Indian women are finally becoming organized. There are a lot of very articulate women across the country now, quite capable of confronting government officials or whatever and asking for what they need themselves. Our Dark Ages are over.”

Her nephew, Doug, would say of her, quote:

“Her life had a purpose and she made the most of it.”

She has been honored extensively in Canada. In 1986, she was given an honorary doctor of law from Queen’s University. In 1991, she was awarded the Order of Canada. In 1994, she was awarded the National Aboriginal Achievement Award. For that award, she was one of the first 12 recipients and the award was presented to her by Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

In 2000 she was posthumously awarded the Ron Draper Health Promotion Award.

In 2020, the CCGS Jean Goodwill, an icebreaker in the Canadian Coast Guard fleet, was named in her honour.  

Over the course of her life, Goodwill also wrote four books, including the aforementioned biography of her father John Tootoosis.

I will finish this episode with a quote from her niece Lorraine, who said quote:

“She was a kind and gentle woman who, along with her husband, would take children in as their own with education as their theme. They were very happy to see young people graduate and they were very supportive of our culture.”

Information from Canadian Encyclopedia, The Regina Leader-Post, Wikipedia, Saskatoon Star Phoenix, the Ottawa Journal, The First Fifty Years, A Matter Of Life and Breath, University of Saskatchewan, Historical, Nursing Canada’s Indigenous Peoples

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