Diplôme d’études étrangères (Besançon); B.A. (Hons.), M.A. (Western); LL.D. (STU)
Before she became a tireless advocate for Indigenous communities across this country, Dr. Marie Wilson was a 15 year-old who longed to explore.
She spent two weeks as an exchange student near Montreal and instantly her world was much larger than the small Ontario town where she grew up. She fell in love with the French language, and believed it was key to learning about different cultures.
By 23, she was on her way to Africa to teach high school students in the impoverished francophone country of what is now known as Burkina Faso. With civil unrest happening all around her, Dr. Wilson saw that foreign media coverage was focused on politics rather than on the impact the strife was having on the local people. At that moment, Dr. Wilson knew she wanted to become a journalist.
She pursued a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario and by 1980, was a national reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC/Radio-Canada) based in Quebec City, covering the first referendum on Quebec sovereignty. She also covered important stories affecting Indigenous people - stories that would challenge Canadians to face tough issues involving the rights of the country’s First Peoples.
A lengthy Radio-Canada labour strike in 1981 prompted a move for Dr. Wilson and her husband, Stephen Kakfwi, to his hometown in the Dene community of Fort Good Hope near the Arctic Circle.
Dr. Wilson found the North rich in stories that needed to be shared with the rest of the country. With her skills as an experienced reporter, she trained community news contributors and encouraged them to recognize the value of their own stories and expertise. As a non-Indigenous woman, she was in awe of traditional northern skills used to make shelter, source clean drinking water and navigate by the stars.
In 1982, CBC launched Northern Canada’s flagship TV current affairs show, Focus North. As its first host, Dr. Wilson helped pioneer the broadcast industry above the 60th parallel. Ten years later, Dr. Wilson became the CBC’s senior manager for northern Quebec and the three northern territories. As regional director, she launched daily television news for Canada’s North, navigating four time zones and 10 languages, the majority of them Indigenous.
She developed the Arctic Winter Games and the True North Concert Series for network television to showcase Indigenous talent. She received a CBC North Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Northerner of the Year Award.
By the time Dr. Wilson left the CBC, nearly half of her reporters were Indigenous northerners.
Because of her expertise in cross-cultural communications, the South African Broadcasting Corporation invited Dr. Wilson to work with their journalists as they brought Nelson Mandela’s dream for democracy to life. Throughout the 1990s, she taught reporters how to hold their new public government to account.
All these experiences would prove valuable when Dr. Wilson, two decades later, bore witness to the stories of Canada’s Residential School Survivors. As one of three Commissioners of the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, she heard horrific accounts of cruelty and abuse from among the 7,000 courageous Survivors. Yet she found a thread of beauty and of shared hope. She continues to lend her voice to encourage all Canadians to explore our past so we can move forward together on a path to national healing.