Elder Mabel Bignell

Mabel Bignell was born in The Pas on August 8, 1945 and attended school in The Pas until the eighth grade.  Following the loss of her Mother in 1960 she, along with her sister and brother moved to Dauphin Residential School where she finished most of Grade 12. Mabel then returned home to The Pas and married Moses Bignell from OCN.  They were blessed with five sons and their family has grown to include five grandsons and two granddaughters.


Later, Mabel decided to return to school and went to Brandon University and received her Bachelor of Education. She has been a teacher since - teaching Kindergarten and Grade 4 for five years. From 1984 to 2002 she taught the Cree language locally and has also taught Cree language courses at UCN for the Restorative Justice & Conflict Resolution program as an evening course. Mabel has also been a member of different language committees both locally and provincially.


Mabel enjoyed working as a curriculum developer for Cree language and also as a teacher of the Cree language. She is still working with the school and teachers in language whenever she is needed - even though she retired in June 2002!



Elder Martha Jonasson

Martha Jonasson was born and raised in Wabowden, MB. She is a widow with 1 daughter, 4 sons, 15 grandchildren, and 8 great-grandchildren. Martha is the second oldest of 13 surviving siblings.


Martha returned to school as an adult and completed Grade 12. She graduated from a 2-year New Careers Health Training program and completed the University of Manitoba Psychology course by correspondence as well as periodic trips to Winnipeg. She also took counseling modules during her employment with the Federal Government.


While employed with the Federal and Provincial governments, Martha was responsible for providing employment counseling services to the following communities: Norway House, Nelson House, Cross Lake, Gillam, Churchill, Ilford, Pikwitonei, Thicket Portage, South Indian Lake, God’s Lake Narrows, God’s River, Oxford House, and Island Lake.


Martha’s employment history includes working as an Employment Councillor/Consultant (Fed/Prov); a Youth Drug & Alcohol Abuse Councillor; an Information Officer & Supervisor of 4 Communities; and a Public Health (mainly diagnosing & treating).


Martha has been a member of the UCN Council of Elders since its inception and enjoys working with, and supporting, students and staff.



Elder John Donovan

John Donovan has been a resident of Thompson since 1976. He was born in Timmins, Ont. and grew up in North Bay before coming to Northern Manitoba, having completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in Education. His working life in Thompson began at RD Parker Collegiate where he was first employed as a counsellor.

John has always had a passion for working with kids, families and those affected by addictions. Much of his counselling and programming was centred around addictions issues and those involved in addictions. He began the Student Match program, which paired high school students like Big Brothers Big Sisters with elementary kids who were from addiction-affected families. Student Match led to his establishing Peer Counselling and S.O.S., which was Students Offering Support. These programs led to the advent of the Hug-Ins in the mid ’80s which continued to the mid ’90s with as many as 300 teenagers at times spending a weekend at the high school doing wellness activities and learning about problems related to substance use while developing coping, student support and wellness skills in an environment of trust and caring.

He then went on to become a department head of student services and a vice-principal at the high school before retiring from education in 2002, after 26 years, and moving into a new career with AFM. In addition to developing a new community-based and residential treatment program which eventually led to the establishment of the Eaglewood Treatment Centre on Princeton Drive in 2010. Donovan was active in a number of other initiatives involving people with addictions and the homeless, working with the homeless shelter board, chairing the Thompson Community Advisory Board and the Project Northern Doorway committee which was instrumental in the creation of the Phoenix House transition home for men living in sobriety run by Men Are Part of the Solution, and the damp house facility at 95 Cree Rd. for chronically homeless people.  John retired from AFM in 2014 but still keeps busy in the community doing youth addictions assessments, providing Brandon University student teacher placement practicum supervision and grand parenting 15 grandkids!

Knowing that there’s still work to be done, there’s still passion to be shared, and he is willing to be at the table. John is committed to the values of UCN and passionate about the role of Elders in supporting the goals of education and continuing in serving the youth of the North.


Elder Margaret Head-Steppan

Margaret Head-Steppan/White Bear Woman Cultural Advisor/Elder with her nicapin works for the Flin Flon Friendship Center and the Flin Flon School Division as the in-house Elder and Cultural Advisor focusing her efforts on cultural community connections. Margaret has had the good fortune of working with all ages of people within the northern communities.

Margaret is a certified Life Skills Coach with many years of experience in the Traditional Holistic methods that are specifically designed to address the needs of the First Nation’s people by using Traditional Holistic methods that are specifically designed to address the needs of the First Nation’s people by using Traditional First Nation Perspective and Holistic Teaching Model of the Medicine Wheel.

This teaching model will address and broaden the context of the First Nations Traditional Teaching and the old ways of life for the First Nations Cree people and how to maintain living a healthy and balanced lifestyle. For the past 35 years, Margaret has walked the Good Red Road and has journey into learning traditional healing methods of the old ways of the Cree People.

The 4 Sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in our ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, through sage, cedar, and sweet grass also have many other uses.

For the Cree Elders say that the Spirits like the aroma produced when burning tobacco and the other medicines. Also, they are used to reflect and enhance the Tradition Belief System and Values of the Cree people.

Margaret’s goal is to continue working towards the truth and reconciliation that will create balance and harmony for the next 7 generations.


Elder Tim Mendel

Tim Mendel was born in Pembina Colony, MB and spent the first 10 years of his life living on a Hutterite Colony. His family left the colony and located to Lowe Farm Manitoba. 

Upon completing his high school graduation from Morris Collegiate he enrolled in the University of Winnipeg’s Education Program. He graduated with a B.Ed. Degree in Early Years Education. He also has a B.A Degree in Psychology from the University of Manitoba and a Post Baccalaureate Certificate from the University of Manitoba. In addition to his formal degrees, he also has a number of other professional certificates. 

Tim began his teaching career in Brochet, MB, a fly in Community in Northern Manitoba. During his 30+ years of working in the field of Education he has held a number of different positions: Superintendent, Principal, Human Resource Director, Director of Student Services, and Teacher at the Early, Middle, and Senior Years. 

Tim is currently retired and living in Swan River Manitoba. He is a school trustee of the Swan River School Division and a Board Member of the local Swan Valley Coop.


Elder Stella Neff

Stella Neff is a Cree Elder from the Misipawistik Cree Nation, Grand Rapids, MB. Stella was born on May 19, 1944, and was raised in Grand Rapids. Stella worked as a practical nurse at Winnipeg General Hospital and the Manitoba Rehabilitation Hospital. She attended Brandon University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Education in Educational Administration. Stella received a Principal’s Certificate from the Department of Education.


Stella is currently retired, having worked in many areas of education that included English Language Enrichment Consultant (Swan Valley School Division), Principal, Cree Language Coordinator, and classroom teacher at most levels (Easterville). Stella also worked at Brandon University as a Student Coordinator for the PENT program. She has served on many committees and boards including the Swan River Indian and Métis Friendship Center, Association for Community Living, Chair of the Fetal Alcohol/Fetal Effects Steering Committee, Parkland Mental Health Council, and the Manitoba Teacher’s Society for Equality in Education.


Currently, Stella is a member of the Premier's Advisory Council on Poverty, Education, and Citizenship. Stella has also served as Chair for the UCN Council of Elders.  She continues to work at Grand Rapids as an Elder Advisor.



Elder Martha Spence

Martha Spence is a Cree woman from Spilt Lake, MB (Tataskweyak).  She has been a member of the UCN Council of Elders for over 10 years. She is a widow and was married for 58 years. She had 10 children, with six children living (3 sons/3 daughters).  She is a grandma of 29 grandchildren and a great-grandma of 34!


Martha attended school to grade 2 ½. She taught herself to read and write, and she wanted to read and write in English. In her later years, she returned to school. She went to university from 1992 to 1996 where she became a minister. She and another male were the only two Indigenous students in their class. They were appreciated, as the others loved hearing about and learning about their culture. Martha has also taken a lot of other courses, one being Applied Counselling.


Martha loves working, looking after her family, being involved with UCN and the Council of Elders, and she loves to travel when she is able to.


Martha offers teachings in Life Skills and the Seven Teachings. She doesn’t have one specific teaching as “we all have our own teachings”.


Martha shared that she has a better life with other people. “As an Elder, others must feel comfortable with you to be able to share what’s going on with them”.



Elder Tommy Weenusk

Tommy Weenusk was born in a log cabin, delivered by his grandmother, in Oxford House, MB.  He attended school in Oxford House from Beginner (this is what it was called) to Grade 8.  He continued his Grade 9 in Stonewall, MB, and completed his GED Test, Grade 12 Equivalent.


Tommy worked for Bunibonibee Cree Nation as a Clerk, Administrator, Manager, Chief and Councilor.  He also worked for the Federal Government in Medical Services for two years.


Tommy is currently enjoying his involvement with the UCN Council of Elders.