Community ‘hurting’ after death of Wanda Big Canoe
One of the most well respected elders of the Chippewas of Georgina Island has died at the age of 85.
Wanda Big Canoe, who worked a lifetime to bridge the gap between Native people and non-native people in the United States and Canada, beginning more than 40 years ago in California, died yesterday.
“A lot of people are hurting, but she is out of pain,” her sister, Lorraine, said from the Island this morning.
Plagued by back pain for most of her adult life due to an injury,Wanda’s health had been failing for the past month.
Described as a warm, encouraging and gracious individual known for being a wonderful representative and true matriarch, the University of California graduate was widely recognized as a peacemaker in the greatest sense.
As a member of the California Indian Education Association, she was assigned to the steering committee for the formation of an American Indian Studies and Cultural Centre at UCLA.
Her efforts to help young native students from various reservations thrived, thanks to an American Indian Scholarship Fund Association she started and which is still in existence today.
Back in Canada, she continued her efforts to help native youth further their education by successfully landing several special scholarships.
She helped street youth learn a skill through a jewelry project and supported education for aboriginal young people at all levels.
As one of the Ladies of the Lake, Wanda dedicated her life to its health and restoration.
The daughter of renowned Chief Lorenzo Big Canoe, Wanda is survived by her son, Dr. Phil Adamson, and two grandchildren,
“Everybody loved her. She was a beautiful, vibrant, intelligent and driven woman,” her sister said. “Everyone is hurting today.”
The respected elder of the Chippewas of Georgina Island leaves behind a legacy of extraordinary achievement and dedication.
She won the long-term volunteer award for the In Celebration of Women, a special award from First Nations Artisans Association, as well as the highly prestigious Golden Bear Award in California for her work there.
She was awarded the YMCA Peace Medal in 2007.
She also acted as the Indian Affairs chairperson for the Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Living much of her life in the public eye, Wanda was humble, modest and never seemed aware of the incredible power of her inner and outer beauty, her sister said.
“Most people wouldn’t have known she did a screen test with Clark Gable,” she added.
Or that her mother was second runner up for Miss America.
But promoting peace by caring about people and the environment was where Wanda devoted a lifetime of her energies.
Many people are expected to honour her memory and pay their respects at a traditional Native ceremony on Georgina Island this week.