Swapping her lab coat for a fancy gown, Eeyou Istchee’s first and only Cree medical doctor, Dr. Darlene Kitty, was honoured October 23 for her career in medicine by the Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, in Hamilton, Ontario.
The foundation raises funds for various endeavours involving children. It also recognizes members of Canada’s Aboriginal communities in the sectors of health, education, arts and culture, sports and lifetime achievement
“I thank the DCF for this award as I am very honoured and humbled in receiving it,” said Kitty.
According to Sara Awdish from the DCF, “Dr. Kitty was selected by a member of our Gala Committee. After careful revision of all of her accomplishments we felt she was a community leader and suitable candidate for the Health Award given her accomplishments.”
At the 2014 gala, hosted at the Hamilton Convention Centre, Tomson Highway was also honoured for arts and culture, Duncan Cree for education, Rochester Knighthawks for sports and Graham Greene for Lifetime Achievement. An audience of 1200 included members of the Black Eyed Peas, Matt Sorum, Gil Birmingham, Jeremiah Bitsui, Tantoo Cardinal, Lorne Cardinal, Bronson Peltier and Wes Studi. Adam Beach hosted the event that featured performances by Sam Moore, Murray Porter, Tia Carrerre and Brian Wilson.
Kitty began practicing medicine in 2005 after attending medical school in Ottawa and a residency in Sudbury. She said that her goal was always to get the clinical knowledge and skills needed to practice in James Bay. Along that road, Kitty said she gained experience, leadership and advocacy by getting involved in medical committees, organizations and projects.
As Kitty’s first medical career was in nursing. She decided to take a big leap forward by studying to become a doctor. Both careers started with her curiosity about science and the human body throughout high school and university, which led to a biology degree. Wanting to do more than work in a laboratory, she said it was through nursing that she was first able to see firsthand that she could help people.
“It is more than science, it is helping others, teaching them, comforting them and advocating for them. I thought that if I went back to school and studied hard I could become a doctor and so I did,” said Kitty.
Along the way Kitty said she was inspired by a number of role models who encouraged her over the years but none more so than Dr. John Big Canoe.
“He told me his story and how he persevered to get in, study well and graduate from medical school. He told me not to give up and not to let them say that you are not good enough,” said Kitty.
“Though he passed away from a boating accident soon after I spoke with him, I now repeat his message when I speak to youth. As a role model, I strongly believe we need to encourage, support and mentor our youth, help them find positive direction in their lives and aim for a career that they will enjoy and prosper in.”
Kitty said she hopes that her legacy will be for the Cree Nation to achieve better health and that includes social and mental well-being as well as clinical services and traditional ways of healing.
“There are many problems in our communities which touch every family but we have to find the strength to face these by providing appropriate and much-needed health services on the frontline and in the community health programs and social services. This can be achieved. I realized this after seven years of clinical practice that I had to step up, speak out and act. My colleagues and I are working very hard to do this together,” said Kitty.