Senate appointment has Portage roots

Senator Dr. Mary Jane McCallum

Senate appointment has Portage roots

Senator came from residential school to Portage host family to finish high school

The Portage Citizen

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Dr. Mary Jane McCallum to the Canadian Senate in December 2017, another chapter in the Portage la Prairie history book was written.

Billie and Ian Borland, founders of Western Bearing, hosted now Senator Dr. Mary Jane McCallum in their Portage home for several years while she completed her high school. They remain friends today and had a lunch date in Portage last week.

Maybe part of Sen. McCallum’s tenacity and accomplishments can be attributed to the work ethic in part developed in the Borland home.

The Borlands are proud of Dr. McCallum’s achievements.

Accompanying the senatorial appointment, the Prime Minister’s Office gave a brief biography of Dr. Mary Jane McCallum: “Dr. Mary Jane McCallum is a First Nations woman of Cree heritage and an advocate for social justice who, over the course of her distinguished career, has provided dental care to First Nations communities across Manitoba.”

Dr. Mary Jane McCallumphoto by Riley Smith/Prime Minister's Office

Senator Dr. Mary Jane McCallum

She received a Dental Nursing Diploma at the Wascana Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1977 and a Dental Therapy Diploma at the School of Dental Therapy in 1979, before earning a Doctor of Dental Medicine from the University of Manitoba in 1990.

From 1979 to 1997, she was involved in the dental field in various capacities, including as a dental therapist in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba communities and as an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba running a dental clinic in Churchill and overseeing students completing their practicum. From 1996 to 2000, she worked on an interchange with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as the Regional Dental Officer for the province.

From 1992 to 1996 and from 2003 to 2010, Dr. McCallum worked in her home community of Brochet, where she managed community health programs, including a children’s dental program, a diabetes program, and prenatal program, and volunteered for several committees, including a housing committee, a school committee, and an education committee. She also ran a monthly dinner and meeting with the Elders to discuss social issues affecting the community.

Dr. McCallum worked as an independent contractor for the federal First Nations and Inuit Health Branch providing services in northern Manitoba before returning to the University of Manitoba in April 2002 to lead the Aboriginal Dental Health Programs.

Since that time, she has continued to work to provide vital dental and health services to a variety of northern, First Nations, and Indigenous communities throughout the Manitoba region. She currently practices dentistry at the Opaskwayak Cree Nation reserve near The Pas.

In addition to her professional endeavours, Dr. McCallum leads workshops and presentations in which she shares her personal experience as a residential school survivor in an effort to raise awareness and understanding.

Dr. McCallum is a member of the Manitoba Dental Association, as well as the Canadian Dental Association,” the PMO said in its bio.

Sen. McCallum is commonly cited as Canada’s first accredited female First Nations dentist.

But before she did all of that, she was a young teenager with young teenager concerns growing up during the school year in Portage la Prairie with the Borland family.

“She spent about four years with us when she was getting her high schooling,” a proud Billie Borland recalls. “She left here to go to the University of Winnipeg and now she is a senator. We are very, very proud of her,” Borland said.

Mary Jane McCallum, 65, was removed from her family as a toddler and spent all those years leading up to her time in Portage with the Borlands, living in a residential school.

The Borland matriarch recalls how McCallum came to spend her high school days in the 1970s in Portage and in her home.

“It was a program where they brought these kids out of the (residential) schools – there were about 12 or 15 of them inKoko Platz where we lived – and into private homes. They were all very nice kids,” she recalled. “Most of them turned out extremely well, especially our girl. She’s just like my daughter.

“She’s someone to look up to, I’ll tell you.”

Prime Minister Trudeau knew what to expect in naming McCallum to the august Red Chamber.

“I am pleased to welcome Parliament’s newest independent senators. (Mary) Coyle and Dr. McCallum have already built legacies in their respective fields, and I trust that they will represent their regions well while bringing the depth of experience and knowledge needed to serve in the best interest of all Canadians,” he said in a statement announcing his picks.

In her first major comment in office, the newly minted Manitoba senator delivered a scathing dressing-down of the Liberals’ approach to Indigenous issues.

“When I look at what has eroded in our relationship with government, it’s been the trust,” she told the Senate committee on Aboriginal issues in February, adding First Nations people get second-class dental treatment while grappling with a multitude of social issues.

While many First Nations are presently negotiating or have negotiated deals to become involved in the production of legal marijuana, Sen. McCallum is cautioning this will not end well for Indigenous peoples.

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