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Lisa Ewanchuk died Tuesday at age 52

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Lisa Ewanchuk, educator.

Lisa Ewanchuk, educator.

A leading light in the push to help Indigenous students celebrate themselves died earlier this week.

Lisa Ewanchuk (née St. Germaine) was widely recognized over the years for her dedicated education work with not just the Simcoe County District School Board, where she started as a teacher, but also with the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, which recently presented her with a Lifetime Achievement in Education award.

“She was a pioneer in First Nations, Métis and Inuit education,” said Jodi Lloyd, the public board's trustee for Orillia and Ramara.

“It's very sad. She was kind, caring and highly respected, both locally and provincially.”

Ewanchuk died Tuesday at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie. She was 52. Aside from her husband, Robert, she leaves behind her daughter, Sarah (husband Bob Milligan), of Hamilton, and her son, Stephen, of Orillia.

Lloyd said “the fact that it was standing-room only” for Ewanchuk's funeral Friday afternoon at the Rama Community Hall serves as a testament to the type of person she was and how others felt about her.

Lloyd noted Ewanchuk started teaching in 1989, eventually taking on the title of centralized principal with the board, where she served as an important resource for all county schools.

As an example of Ewanchuk's work, Lloyd pointed to a reciprocal tuition agreement she helped craft that allowed students from both Rama and Beausoleil First Nations to attend board schools and vice-versa.

“She helped create better awareness and understanding throughout the board,” Lloyd said. “We will continue the work she started.”

During an interview with the Packet & Times last month, Ewanchuk said she felt determined to try to reach her goals.

“I think (students') identities are stronger, and they're very comfortable in saying, 'I'm Ojibwe,' or, 'I'm Mohawk,'” said Ewanchuk, who was the board's principal of First Nation, Métis and Inuit education.

The program started as a pilot project in 2009, and Ewanchuk was recruited to run it for a year. It took off, and she ended up heading it for eight years, until last fall, when she had to take time off for medical reasons.

“I think a lot had to do with interest and a lot had to do with our strong leadership as a board who knew that reconciliation needed to take place,” she said of the program's success. “We needed to build a stronger relationship with our communities and partners.”

It was certainly an educational experience different from her own growing up as an Ojibwe woman in Rama.

“I had a positive school experience, relatively speaking,” Ewanchuk said. “But had there been the resources and supports and staff back then, it would have been better. There wouldn't have been those times when I was struggling to identify who I was. I would have been proud to be an Ojibwe person from Rama. I was always struggling to defend who I was, and that was hard.”

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