Celebrating her unwavering dedication to Indigenous education, Elder Pauline Shirt, has been recognized as one of the 26 outstanding individuals to receive the esteemed Order of Ontario this year.
The announcement was made by The Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Chancellor of the Order of Ontario on November 6, with the ceremony taking place on November 27.
“I commend the provincial government for giving Elder Pauline Shirt the Order of Ontario. I have known Elder Shirt as a residential school survivor since the early 60s,” said Elder Dr. Duke Redbird.
“When we met in Alberta, she was just a teenager and had already begun the crusade to decolonize the education system for all children. It has been an honour and privilege to work with her and support her vision for the past 60 years.”
Elder Shirt —who is a member of the Urban Indigenous Education Centre’s (UIEC) Elders Council at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) —is being recognized for her significant contributions to Indigenous education, cultural revitalization and holistic wellness within Indigenous communities, as well as her ability to build relationships and understanding across diverse peoples.
“We are so honoured to have Elder Pauline Shirt guide us with her immense wisdom and a life of experience, as the founder of Kâpapâmahchakwêw – Wandering Spirit School since 1976,” said System Superintendent of Indigenous Education and Superintendent of Kâpapâmahchakwêw – Wandering Spirit School, Tanya Senk.
“She has dedicated her life to the advancement of Indigenous education and our children and youth. Her dedication and unwavering commitment is truly a gift.”
Elder Shirt, was born and raised in Saddle Lake Reserve, Alberta, and worked as a teacher and lecturer since the late 1960s. She is a founder of the Kâpapâmahchakwêw – Wandering Spirit School and the Red Willow. Known for her commitment to the Toronto Indigenous community, Elder Shirt has been a mentor to youth and young families.
At the age 80, she continues to champion Indigenous education in many sectors of Ontario and nationally; she has also had a profound impact on individuals and families.
She is celebrated for her dedication of close to six decades of community activism, learning, and teaching across the country. Her tireless efforts have made a profound impact, transcending local boundaries and influencing Indigenous education.
“My friend, Elder Pauline Shirt, has dedicated her life to improving the lives of her Indigenous families. She teaches about our ancestors and our ceremonies to keep the culture alive. Her work is known by many. Elder Shirt is highly deserving of the award,” said Elder Joanne Dallaire.
Established in 1967, the Order of Ontario is one of the country's highest honors, recognizing outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation. This prestigious award is an acknowledgment of individuals who have made a significant impact, inspiring others through their remarkable contributions to Canadian society.