A First Nations woman who is a dentist, passionate health care and social justice advocate, and a Canadian Senator is Brandon University’s new Chancellor.
Senator Mary Jane McCallum was unanimously confirmed by the BU Senate and will take the oath of office ahead of BU’s Convocation later this month. An official installation ceremony will be held at a later date.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled,” said BU President Dr. David Docherty, who is also Vice-Chancellor. “Senator Mary Jane McCallum inspires us all, she is full of energy and action, and we will greatly benefit from her knowledge and experience as Brandon University works towards Reconciliation and continues to grow. We are deeply honoured to have Senator McCallum agree to serve as our Chancellor.”
The Chancellor is the formal head of Brandon University and they are chosen for their ability to provide high-level vision, guidance and wisdom. They are a member of both the university’s governing bodies, the Board of Governors and the Senate, and they preside over each Convocation, where they bring greetings and advice to the graduating students as well as officially conferring the degrees. The Chancellor also serves as a general ambassador for the university, supporting and promoting BU’s mission and values.
Chancellor McCallum will be the first Indigenous person to serve in the role for Brandon University, as well as BU’s first female Chancellor.
“The honour I am receiving is not through individual effort but represents a culmination of all the people who have been involved in my life and the profound impact they have had on me. My character has been shaped through demonstration and by the sharing of teachings and ceremonies; through conversations; through stories; through hard times and good times with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike,” Chancellor McCallum said.
“As your new Chancellor, I greatly look forward to the opportunity to meet with students, faculty, alumni and members of the wider Brandon University community. I know these encounters will continue to shape and influence me in a positive way and I look forward to learning all that I can from each of you. In return, I also look forward to imparting my own reflections and insights, too, in what I know will be a mutually enriching experience.
“In accepting the position of Chancellor for Brandon University, the honour is not only for me but all the people in Canada who have — and who will — walk this earth journey with me. I carry you all with me today.”
Chancellor McCallum is of Cree heritage and is a citizen of the Barren Lands First Nation in Brochet, Manitoba. She attended the Guy Hill Residential School in The Pas for 11 years. She is an advocate for social justice who, over the course of her distinguished career, has provided dental care to First Nations communities across Manitoba.
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.
From 2004 until 2020, she continued to work to provide vital dental and health services before officially retiring from dentistry in April 2021. She remains a non-practicing member of the Manitoba Dental Association.
In addition to her professional endeavours, Senator 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.
Chancellor McCallum and her husband have two daughters, and she also has a son.
She became a Senator on Dec. 2, 2017, and she sits with the Independent Senators Group.
Chancellor McCallum steps into the role previously held by Michael Decter, who completed a double term as Chancellor. First appointed in 2013, he was reappointed in 2017. The Brandon University Act limits Chancellors to two terms.
“All of us at Brandon University have drawn enormously on Michael Decter’s guidance and wisdom over the past years, and owe him every thanks,” said Dr. Docherty. “We are presenting Senator McCallum with a robust Chancellorship and eagerly anticipate the great things she will bring to the role.”
Among Senator McCallum’s first official duties as BU Chancellor will be conferring degrees upon the university’s newest graduates at Spring Convocation, set for May 27.
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