It is an honour she wasn’t expecting.
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May Henderson, who is originally from Prince Albert, is one of seven people to receive the Saskatchewan Order of Merit this month.
“Since the Saskatchewan Order of Merit was established in 1985, some of Canada’s most renowned citizens have received the honour,” Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield said in a government release. “We can be proud that these remarkable people are all from our province. This year’s recipients are very impressive, and are most worthy to be counted among our brightest and best.”
Although she knew she was nominated for the award, Henderson was surprised to learn she would be receiving it.
“A friend of mine received it a few years back and he was talking about it and I thought it would never happen to me,” Henderson said. “I guess a few of them got together and put it together and it happened.”
It is a privilege to be receiving the award and to be put in the same category as so many other amazing people, she said.
“It is an honour to be nominated but it means even more when you get the award,” Henderson said. “I am finding that life has been good to me and I love working and I will help my community as much as I can. I am really humble and honoured by it. When I looked at the other recipients I was surprised to be among these other amazing people.”
Henderson has spent her career focused on making her community a better place to live for First Nations people. Until recently, she was the executive director of the Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre.
“A lot of our people, we had to deal with homeless people, people with a lot of different issues,” Henderson said. “We were service delivery agency, so we had programs in all of these categories. People could come in and no matter what service you needed, if we couldn’t provide it, we would direct them to someone who had the expertise in it. No one was ever turned away.”
Not only has she help people by finding information and services they needed, Henderson also helped through her kindness and generosity.
“For me, what made my day was if I could see a smile on someone’s face because they had a hot coffee and a breakfast or soup at lunchtime,” Henderson said. “I spend a lot of time networking, building the partnerships at the Friendship Centre.”
Her passion is working with youth, Elders and veterans, she said.
“My main goal is to make a better life for the youth so they have some place to go,” Henderson said. “I started a youth group there and it is still going. I have been very passionate about youth and Elders and even veterans.”
On Remembrance Day and Louis Riel Day, Henderson would make sure the veterans were looked after, either hosting a little lunch or event for them.
“Those three were my passion for working at the Friendship Centre -- building these strong partnerships and networking,” Henderson said.
Working with people is not a chore to Henderson -- she loves volunteering and spending time helping others.
“I love to volunteer but I’m not one that likes to be in the limelight,” Henderson said. “When there is a function on, you would always find me in the kitchen, making sure everyone is looked after. I am more of a background person. I would sooner be doing the work than delegating it.”
Henderson does not just give her time -- she will often donate needed food and items as well.
“If there wasn’t money to make soup, I would bring it from home,” she said.
Although she puts in a lot of time volunteering, Henderson said it isn’t possible to do it alone.
“No one works alone, you always have someone around you and I had a lot of people helping me out as well,” Henderson said.
Not only has she built strong relationships with First Nations people, she also has strong connections with the government.
“I have built strong partnerships with three levels of government -- municipal, provincial and federal -- and all the community agencies,” Henderson said. “I will work with anyone and do my best. I can’t say I’m going to work a miracle with the nation because you know that is impossible, but I enjoy what I’m doing and I’m going to do the best I can with what I have to work with.”
Currently, Henderson is the secretary of the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan.
“I ran in two previous elections and this is the third kick at the cat and I got in,” Henderson said. “I’ve always been involved at the Metis Nation but at a local level. I’m Metis and proud of it and I wanted to help more people. My position is to look after the registry to make sure people are registered -- encourage them to register, because we can’t force them.”
She is proud of her heritage and has always wanted to be a part of the movement and executive, Henderson said.
“I want to make a better place for our Metis people and Aboriginals in general,” Henderson said. “A lot of people in the Centre were not Metis. The clientele was First Nations and we never turned anyone away. For me, that was my life was at the Friendship Centre.”
Even though she no longer works at the Friendship Centre, Henderson still helps out when she can.
“I actually went one day and spent a whole day there to help them out because they didn’t have a cook there,” Henderson said. “I like going there. I’ve always enjoyed working and worked my whole life. I would have to say I had the best years of my life at the Friendship Centre, helping the less fortunate and I will continue to volunteer.”
Her commitment and advocacy about issues the Métis face have lead to many positive changes in the Saskatchewan community.
In addition to her work at the Friendship Centre, Henderson is also a board member for the Back to Batoche festival, Métis Addiction Council of Saskatchewan and the treasurer of Gabriel Dumont Institute.
She has also received other awards in the past for her efforts, including the Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan, the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Leadership and Management, the Gabriel Dumont Sash for serving the Métis Community and the United Way W. A. Milne Strength of Spirit Volunteer of the year award.