Born to an indigenous mother who married outside the community Lisa lost her First Nations status. Years later, as she found a way to reclaim her heritage, this journey back to her roots gave Lisa a deep understanding of the importance of her heritage and what it means to be true to your culture. Finding her own language started a long journey and protecting the past has become her life’s work.
2020 VCLA Winner of Lifelong Learning: Lisa Mercure
Lisa works at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC), supporting Indigenous Elders and delivering cultural programs for the urban Indigenous community. As a result of her work over 130 Elders are now connected hosting language clubs, mentoring participants or leading advisory tables.
Through the language programs she has developed, Lisa has created space for fluent speakers to pass along the teachings of the Elders through an Urban Indigenous Language Hub.
Currently, 8 speakers run 5 different Indigenous language classes as part of the ‘hub.
Lisa listens closely to people and finds ways to respect their capacity. Lisa tells the story of how when the elders she was teaching heard the sound of a yardstick on the chalk wall it brought back the terrible memories of residential school. For the next session, Lisa brought in a braided ‘pow-wow’ stick. The new stick continued to serve as a pointer, but the sound it made when striking the wall was no longer the sinister tap-tap-tap, it was transformed to the familiar and welcome sound of the drum. It is in these simple ways Lisa continues to decolonize our world and share the wisdom of our elders.
As a leader, Lisa believes it is important to remain humble and to understand and to learn from those she serves. Recognising how she often works with people who have experienced trauma from people in power, she loves to share the power of the teacher with others. Her life is now filled with elders who have taken on titles. Lisa would love to introduce you to her professor of beading, her professor of language, or professor of basket making. Each professor/elder given a little more room to heal through this process. To everyone she encounters, Lisa inspires by how she walks as a leader, and as an Indigenous woman.
Lisa takes great pride in teaching her daughters to stand tall in reclaiming their identity and has continued to learn alongside them while volunteering at schools over the years. Lisa’s continued efforts to learn, whether it is being inspired by Marge White, the founder of the Indigenous Friendship Centers across Canada, or from Elders at the VNFC, have taught her to recognize and honor the individual gifts in each person.
As a lifelong learner and celebrator of learning, Lisa refuses to be cowed by the current pandemic. Her secret is to continue to help and serve others. While it has been a long journey for Lisa to find her language, she has never lost her voice, when trouble arises you will be sure to find Lisa singing out as loudly as possible.
Lisa invites everyone to join her in a visit to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (once it reopens) and learn more about the work that is being done there.
By Chandrima Mazumdar, I write on topics related to leadership, diversity, media and gender equality.
We extend our appreciation to the University of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation for sponsoring this VCLA award