Dr. Catherine Cook Wins the 2023 Vanier Medal
Recognized for improving health outcomes for Indigenous peoples
Dr. Catherine Cook, vice-president (Indigenous) at the University of Manitoba, has been awarded the prestigious 2023 Vanier Medal, recognizing her exceptional impact and achievement in the public realm.
Cook [MD/87, MSc/03] is the first Indigenous recipient of this national award, which she will accept in September at a gala in Ottawa.
“It is such an honour to receive this award,” Cook said. “Work like this is never done alone, and I must stress that I do so on behalf of all the people who have worked so hard alongside me, those who have supported me, mentored me and been part of the teams that have made a difference over the years.”
Throughout her career spanning more than 35 years, 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 and in doing so, she has worn many hats: as 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 today as vice-president (Indigenous) at UM.
This award caps a distinguished career as she is set to retire from UM later this year.
“I have been fortunate to work alongside and learn from Dr. Cook throughout my tenure as President and I can confidently say she is unquestionably committed to public service. She is a changemaker who has inspired generations,” said Michael Benarroch, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Manitoba. “On behalf of our university community, I congratulate her on this great honour and thank her for her dedication to improving equity and access to health care delivery in this country.”
Cook grew up in a relatively isolated fishing community on an island in Lake Winnipeg and it was there she learned the value of working for others.
“You took care of people who needed help, did what you could for those around you. That was instilled in us very early as children—that we were to look out for each other,” Cook once told UM Today The Magazine.
She became one of the first Indigenous physicians trained in Manitoba and a pivotal moment in her career came when she was in a remote northern nursing stations and saw the disparity of service different peoples received. She knew then that these deeply embedded challenges would have to be addressed through public-health policy and health administration. So she worked hard to bring change and now her lifetime of work is being honoured by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.
Cook has also brought systematic changes to UM’s ways of doing things since becoming the inaugural VP (Indigenous) in 2020. In her term, for instance, she helped usher in: the EleV program, which increases equity and access to post-secondary education across Manitoba; the Indigenous Content Requirement that increases students’ understanding of the place of Indigenous people in Manitoba’s and Canada’s history; the development of a Reconciliation Action Plan; and the Anti-Racism Task Force, on which she is a co-chair, just to name a few internal impacts.
She has mentored hundreds of fellow Indigenous health care professionals, and always encourages them to work collaboratively, because as she once said, “you may have the vision, but if you don’t know who to reach out to it’s kind of a little light burning slowly, waiting for someone to come along and help fan it.”