ALD22: Dr Lillian Dyck, Neuroscientist and Psychiatrist

Dr Lillian Dyck

Dr Lillian Eva Dyck is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan and former Canadian senator (retired). She was one of the first Aboriginal women in Canada to achieve an academic scientific career, as well as the first to be a senator. Dyck is both of Chinese Canadian and Cree Gordon First Nation heritage.

Dyck’s love of science began with her chemistry teacher, who encouraged her to pursue the subject. She attended the University of Saskatchewan where she obtained her undergraduate and masters degrees in biochemistry. After time spent working in jobs in horticulture and in biochemistry labs, she became interested in biological psychiatry, and returned to the University of Saskatchewan to pursue a PhD.

Dyck began to work as a neuroscientist at the University of Saskatchewan, eventually reaching full professor in the Neuropsychiatry Research Unit. Initially, she researched the biochemistry of alcoholism, because she was aware of racist myths about alcoholism amongst Indigenous people and wanted to challenge them. Her other work investigated potential drugs, exploring their mechanisms of action, in order to find out which were most appropriate for neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. She also wrote about the uses of Indigenous medicine in treating disease, in her paper An Analysis of Western, Feminist and Aboriginal Science Using the Medicine Wheel of the Plains Indians.

She received many awards for her work, including an Indspire, formerly National Aboriginal Achievement Award, for Science & Technology, a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Science, Technology & the Environment, and a YWCA Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017, Cree playwright Kenneth T. Williams wrote a play about Dyck called Café Daughter.

Following her research career, Dyck was invited to join the Canadian Senate by the Prime Minister in 2005, where she continued advocating for Indigenous women and other minority groups, serving as Deputy Chair and Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples and as a member of the Progressive Senate Group. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2021 for her work.

Further Reading

Posted in Ada Lovelace Day 2022.