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Photo of Vice-President (Indigenous) Dr. Catherine Cook. Photo by Thomas Fricke.

Celebrating Dr. Catherine Cook

Inaugural UM Vice-President (Indigenous) to retire at the end of January

December 18, 2023 — 

“I wanted to do something adventurous – and I have to say, this has been an adventure.”

After more than 30 years with the University of Manitoba, Vice-President (Indigenous) Catherine Cook, MD, MSc, CCFP, FCFP will retire at the end of January, moving into a new phase of her life.

Throughout her career, Cook has worked with First Nations, Métis, Inuit, provincial and federal governments, as well as community organizations, to champion the importance of health services for Indigenous Manitobans.

She has served on multiple professional associations, councils, committees and boards as a highly respected advisor who advocates for Indigenous peoples’ health. In doing so, she has worn many hats: as Vice-President of Population and Public Health at the Winnipeg Regional Health Organization (WRHA), provincial lead of Indigenous health at Shared Health Manitoba; as an associate professor of community health sciences; as head of Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing; as vice-dean of Indigenous Health; and most recently as the inaugural vice-president (Indigenous) at UM.

“It’s been such a privilege to do the work we’ve done and have people trust we could do it. And I say ‘we’, because none of this work is done alone,” says Dr. Cook. “Seeing leadership at this university recognize the need to have Indigenous leadership at the decision-making tables is a proud moment for me.”

Creating systems change

Cook took on the role of vice-president (Indigenous) at UM in 2020. She says that while efforts to address Reconciliation at the university had been underway for years, her goal was to set up a structure that would create real systems change for Indigenous people.

“I think the biggest success in the way this rolled out was putting recommendations in place that focused on having accountability rest with all of the vice-presidents – not just the VP Indigenous,” says Cook. “Because Reconciliation is about everybody. It’s not up to only Indigenous people to affect Reconciliation. And we can’t achieve anything without the whole country being involved and, in this case, the whole university.”

One of the highlights of Cook’s career has been the establishment of Ongomizwiin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.

Melanie MacKinnon, executive director of Ongomizwiin – Health Services at UM, has worked with Cook since 2011 and alongside her on the development of Ongomizwiin.

“Catherine understands that improving Indigenous health outcomes is multi-generational work,” says MacKinnon. “She’s planted a lot of seeds and pulled a lot of weeds for the rest of us to continue cultivating that work and ensure our culture is reflected in the work that we do and in the spaces we are in.”

Working together

MacKinnon says Cook’s leadership style has a very family-oriented approach.

“We know her children, we know her grandchildren and all of their successes and celebrations – and she knows ours,” says MacKinnon. “And in a leadership and team dynamic, it’s a different degree of accountability. It’s always been about how we collectively solve problems – together, as a kind of family.”

Throughout all the governance and structural administrative progress, Cook says her proudest moments are reflected in the students.

“Seeing exceptional students coming forward, actively engaging in discussions around Indigenous identity and Reconciliation is so hopeful for me. These students excel in their ability to not only see what they need, but to see what our community needs. And as the next generation of Indigenous leaders, they’re showing me that this work isn’t going to stop,” says Cook.

UM President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Benarroch highlights Cook’s work to advance Indigenous engagement, success and governance at UM and build a culturally safe environment for Indigenous students, staff, faculty and guests.

“I’d like to recognize Dr. Cook for her visionary leadership as UM’s first-ever Vice-President (Indigenous). Dr. Cook has proven to be a collaborative, patient, yet assertive leader. She serves as a strong mentor for her team and others at the university who are working to transform colonial structures. It has been a genuine pleasure to work with and learn from Catherine since I assumed my role,” says Benarroch.  

When asked what she’d like her UM community to remember about her time with the university, Cook says this:

“I hope people will remember that we did it together. We have active, committed teams and strong leadership at every level – and whether it was students or staff or faculty or executive, it was a collective effort. That’s the key to any success – working together as a community and making a difference.”

Celebration of service

The UM community is invited to attend a celebration of service for Dr. Catherine Cook.

Thursday, December 21, 2023
Smartpark Innovation Hub, 100 Innovation Drive
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Program begins at 1:30 p.m.

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