An accomplished artist from Lheidli T’enneh Nation near Prince George will be receiving an honorary degree.
Elder Marcel Gagnon will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) during a virtual convocation Friday, June 25.
“It’s a great honour to receive this honorary doctorate,” Gagnon said in a news release.
“I accept and share this honour in the name of my dear mother, Margaret Gagnon.”
Margaret passed away in 2010, and lived a difficult life, Gagnon said.
She survived the 1918 influenza pandemic known as the Spanish flu and residential school. Gagnon said she was instrumental with UNBC when it first opened in Prince George and noted he still has pictures of her chatting with Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening in 1994.
Despite Gagnon’s own challenges after being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Beaver Clan member has been a tireless advocate for those who endure the symptoms of the disorder.
“Because I learned about it I learned to manage my struggles,” he said, adding he has worked with an internationally renowned expert in FASD for years now.
“We have an expression her [expert] and I ‘no shame, no blame.’ Even though the damage happened to me during pregnancy, there’s no blame attached to any of that—you got to remember it was back in 1950. The doctors actually told my mom to go home and have a beer, so nothing was known about it.”
Amongst his many accomplishments to be proud of, Gagnon was instrumental in bringing the first Indigenous Court to Prince George, which opened in March 2018.
Additionally, he has worked as an addictions counsellor, as well as with men in the corrections system for close to two decades.
“I’m always telling the guys to take responsibility but remember there’s a reason why your behavior is the way it is,” Gagnon said.
“You just have to understand it. Once you understand it then you can change it.”
Before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization last March, Gagnon was working on developing a new play with Karen Jeffery at the Sunset Theatre in Wells. His autobiographical play The Drum is Calling You Home, which he starred in, had debuted at the theatre in August 2018.
As an artist, he has also released four studio albums, two of which have been Juno nominated.
He has served as UNBC’s elder-in-residence since 2018 and regularly shares his knowledge and understanding surrounding his cultural teachings with students, faculty, and staff.
Gagnon is currently working on his memoir and lives off-grid in a cabin at Hoodoo Lake north of Prince George with his dog Nikko.