2015 IW Winners

Thunder Bay | Aboriginal Leadership

Holly Prince

Holly Prince

“I never chose the field of palliative care, it chose me,” said Holly Prince, project manager of the Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health (CERAH) at Lakehead University.

She had planned to pursue her master of social work (MSW) in addictions and mental health. “However, the Creator had another plan in mind for me, something that I would not fully appreciate until years later.”

Born in Nipigon and raised in Beardmore, Prince is an Anishinabekwe from the Red Rock Indian Band, Lake Helen Reserve. In 1996, she began her studies at Confederation College in Thunder Bay where she met her future husband Darren Prince. They now have two daughters and expecting a third child in September.

After receiving the college’s Native Mental Health Worker diploma in 1998, Prince attended Lakehead, graduating in 2002 with Honours Bachelor in Social Work (HBSW) and in 2005, with a MSW.

“I was the first person in my entire extended family to attend university,” said Prince, who is also the recipient of a number of awards and scholarships.

In 2002, as she was finishing her HBSW, a 23-year-old close friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer and died. “I knew then that I had two choices, one was try to navigate my way through all the intense emotions and feelings on my own...or two, I could learn from the experience and make not only his life but his death meaningful.”

For the next two years, Prince did her master’s project on palliative care in First Nations communities, working with her supervisor Dr. Mary Lou Kelley, a professor of social work. From 2005-2010, she continued as project manager at CERAH, expanding her research to include 21 First Nations communities in three treaty areas across northwestern Ontario, focusing on increasing the palliative care knowledge, skills and confidence of local First Nation community care providers and building linkages with external health services and resources.

“The need for palliative care services for First Nations people is increasing due to an aging population,” said Prince. “Many First Nations people want the opportunity to die in the communities where they have lived all of their lives; however, people in First Nations communities have limited access to culturally relevant and formalized palliative care programs.”

Her journey with palliative care came full circle in 2008 when she learned her mother had non-curative cancer and a palliative care approach was suggested. “I accompanied my mother throughout her journey. I advocated for her, provided good quality care and ensured that others were doing the same.”

In 2010, Holly became the co-investigator and project manager of a five-year internationally ground-breaking Canadian program of research with the overall goal to improve the endof- life care in four First Nations communities through developing palliative care programs and creating a culturally appropriate theory of change to guide palliative care program and policy development nationally.

“I can look back on it all now and realize that the Creator started me on this very unique journey all those years ago... that there was this plan for me even if I didn’t understand it myself,” said Prince. “The Creator gave me all that I needed, I just needed to take that leap of faith, change my career path, and know that it would all make sense one day. It does now.” IW

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