She might work on Lheidli T’enneh territory these days, but Barb Ward-Burkitt started her half-century of public service in Quesnel and still maintains tight bonds with her home community.
Ward-Burkitt is being celebrated for achieving 50 years connected to the Friendship Centre movement and it all started at the brand new Tillicum Society-Quesnel Native Friendship Centre before her career evolved to Prince George where she is now a national figure in the field of Aboriginal advocacy.
Ward-Burkitt remembers the day she got a fateful phone call from her mother Martha Ward and auntie Joyce Horning that started it all. She was at home looking after her firstborn child.
“My mom and auntie were preparing the Remembrance Day (1972) luncheon, and my mom called me asking me to come help them, they needed potatoes peeled and vegetables chopped,” said Ward-Burkitt. “I’d said to her I don’t have a babysitter for Lea (my 1 ½-year-old daughter), and she said we’ve got a whole room full of elders here, she will be fine, pack up her dolls and bring her on down. They actually sent a taxi to get us. I remember setting her up with her toys and snacks and watched over her like a hawk, but pretty soon realized those Elders were more than happy to take care of her. That was the start of working in the Friendship Centre movement. I really felt I’d found my place.”
She became a board member of the Tillicum Society but had to quit that volunteer position when she was hired as an employee.
She was also on a path of study in the field of education, to couple with her passion for social safety and a suddenly passionate interest in her Indigenous culture’s roots.
Ward-Burkitt is a member of the Fort McKay First Nation (Cree). She carries the Indigenous name Wahiyow Cawapata Scoo.
For personal reasons, she made a move to Prince George in the early 1990s. The Friendship Centre there took her on in their adult career preparation program. She would advance in experience and education from there, climbing into management and finally to the position of executive director.
Along the way, Ward-Burkitt earned her Master’s Degree in Education (major in administration and leadership, minor in curricular development and instruction), among other certifications. She sits on a number of influential boards and advisory positions locally and nationally.
Ward-Burkitt was named to the Order of British Columbia in 2010. The province’s Lieutenant Governor of the day, Steven Point, said, “As executive director of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre, the largest of 120 Friendship Centres in Canada, Mrs. Ward-Burkitt acts as a strong advocate for elders, children and families, ensuring services offered in her community focus on a holistic approach in a culturally appropriate atmosphere.”
Cindy Lepetich is the assistant executive director of Quesnel’s Friendship Centre and started in 1977 as a summer student.
“We worked together here in Quesnel,” Lepetich said. “Barb became a very good personal friend and was like a mentor to me. Fifty years with the Friendship Centre movement does not surprise me, knowing Barb. I’ve always known her to love working with people, loves helping people. I’m very impressed how far she has gone, with her education as well as being executive director of the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. The Quesnel Tillicum Society is very proud of the goals Barb has reached.”
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