By: Meagan Collins
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck is a Member of the Gordon First Nation and a first-generation Chinese Canadian. She grew up in the Prairies of Saskatchewan and attended high school in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, but moved around frequently between Saskatchewan and Alberta since her family operated a series of restaurants.
Senator Dyck recounts that her early scientific inquiries formed around the same time as the Space Age. Her Chemistry teacher, Mr. John Dyer, was the first to encourage her and her brother to further their educations in science. When asked who taught her the most when growing up, she replied, “We were very fortunate to have such good teachers in pretty much every subject. My Biology and Chemistry teachers were the teachers that were the most influential to me.” She stated, “I really liked the Biology labs and doing the lab work.”
With an initial interest in Chemistry, she decided to first explore Biochemistry as both an undergraduate and master’s student. When she recounts her time as an undergraduate student, working in horticultural and biochemistry labs during the summer, Senator Dyck says, “I really liked participating in experiments and seeing the results and trying to figure out what it meant.” After working a series of summer jobs and exploring different questions in numerous labs, she decided to pursue graduate studies in Biological Psychiatry and obtained her PhD from the University of Saskatchewan in 1981.
After spending many years working as a Full Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Senator Dyck has been recognized with several prestigious titles and awards. These include the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Science & Technology in (1999) and the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Science, Technology & the Environment (2003). Upon winning the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Science & Technology, Senator Dyck recalled, “That was a thrill! That was the first time that I met another Canadian indigenous scientist, Dr. Malcom King.” She remembers what it felt like to meet another Canadian scientist with a PhD saying, “Back then, he was the only other one whom I had met. You always feel like you are the only one because you pretty much are.”
Senator Dyck transitioned her current role in the Senate as the first Indigenous female senator and first Canadian-born Chinese senator in 2005. She says that her identity and experience has influenced her work in politics as she advocates for Indigenous women and better education for Indigenous youth. Senator Dyck was a key figure in making changes to laws such as Bill S-3* to advocate for the equal rights of Indigenous women.
When asked what advice she would give to students to succeed in a STEM career, she said, “We may not always have a role model or a mentor, but I think support is key. For young students, I would think of someone in their own family, maybe who they admire, or ask their family or friends for support. It is finding those friends and family who tell you that you can make it!”
We thank Senator Lillian Eva Dyck for taking the time to share her unique insights and for being a role model to us all.
*Bill S-3: as of August 15, 2019, all descendants born prior to April 17, 1985 to women who lost status or were removed from band lists because of their marriage to a non-Indian man dating back to 1869, will be entitled to registration, bringing them in line with the descendants of men who never lost status.
LINKS FOR TEACHERS
Learn more about our bloggers on the "Meet Our Team" page.