Eunice Joe is accustomed to helping serve others.
But it was Joe, who is serving her third term as a Tseshaht First Nation councillor, who was in the spotlight recently.
An event in Joe’s honour was co-hosted in late October by the Tseshaht First Nation and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), in part to recognize her educational pursuits as well as her current employment.
Joe’s post-secondary career included earning her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in First Nations studies. She graduated in 2003 from Malaspina College, which was renamed Vancouver Island University five years later.
More than a decade after securing her first post-secondary degree, Joe, a single parent with three children, opted to continue her education.
She went on to obtain a Master of Arts Leadership degree, with a health specialization, from Royal Roads University in 2019.
Besides serving as a Tseshaht First Nation councillor since 2012, for the past dozen years Joe also held various positions with the FNHA.
This past spring, however, she was approached with the opportunity to become one of Island Health’s executive directors.
Joe then accepted a secondment in September with Island Health, temporarily moving her to another position. She is currently filling the role of acting vice-president of Indigenous health and diversity, equity and inclusion.
Her responsibilities include prioritizing work to respond to issues of racism in the health care system. Her duties also include creating a coalition of action among Island Health portfolios, as well as Indigenous communities and partners.
Joe said her councillor position with the First Nation is not a full-time job, enabling her to seek other employment opportunities and also further her education.
Her juggling act to do so has undoubtedly been challenging.
“I would say I’ve had a tremendous amount of family support,” Joe said.
While pursuing her Masters, Joe had a couple of family challenges to deal with as well. Both her mother and eldest sister died while she was working towards her degree.
Though she is a single parent, Joe added her daughters and son, who still live with her, are grown up now. They are aged 18, 21 and 26.
And it’s not just family members who have been encouraging and supportive in her activities.
“I’ve had the full support of my community through my educational journey,” she said.
Joe said her school commitments did force her to miss the odd council meeting. And some other times she would be unable to attend an in-person meeting and would be accommodated by joining remotely.
Joe was first elected as a Tseshaht First Nation councillor in 2012. She won a second term in 2016. And she was re-elected once again for a third term in 2020.
In the future the day could conceivably come when she is referred to as Dr. Eunice Joe. That’s because she has thought about earning a doctorate degree.
“I have not closed the door to that idea yet,” she said. “If the right program comes back along, I’ll look at it.”
And what would such a program look like?
“It would be a program that is aligned with my cultural values that would support First Nations communities’ health and wellness,” she said.
Joe’s cultural values were certainly on display during the years she worked at the FNHA. While there she supported all 50 First Nations on Vancouver Island as well as many of the others throughout British Columbia.
Her FNHA work included providing expertise and leadership to regions, supporting planning, communications, relationships, policy development and management.
She also supported community engagement and development initiatives to further First Nation participation in health governance and the transformation of the health care system.
Joe added if she were to pursue a doctorate degree, she would in all likelihood be looking to complete courses online. She has checked into programs from Canada and other countries.