Zoey Roy is a 2023 recipient of The One to Watch Alumni Achievement Award.

This award recognizes a young alumnus/alumna who is making significant personal and professional contributions in society, resulting in a demonstrable betterment of their community, and setting an example for fellow and future alumni to follow.

By John Grainger

It’s a heartfelt appreciation for Old People sharing their experiences that has helped fuel the bright light shining on Zoey Roy’s (BEd’17, MPP’20) artistic endeavours in her relatively young career.

Roy, an Indigenous poet, activist, storyteller, and educator has always recognized the importance that Elders have had on her life.

Roy is being honoured this year with The One to Watch Alumni Achievement Award this fall at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) for building a career of connecting with young people and bringing messages of anti-racism and healing into classrooms across the country. 

She maintains she receives much joy from being in the company of Old People. Listening to their stories and their words provides her with inspiration and strength.

“Listening to grandmothers like Maria Campbell at her kitchen table, this is like one of my favourite places to be. I’m a steward for Old People, in a way,” says Roy, who was the USask Indigenous Storyteller-in-Residence in 2022. Roy’s use of Old People is her preferred term.

“I have such a passionate love for Old People. Lately, I’ve been making songs with Elders. This will be in the inspiration for my PhD (at York University in Toronto).”

Taking the time to listen and enjoy the company of grandmothers is something she holds dear.

“When I’m surrounded by Old People who have gone through a lot of hard things who are willing to share and willing to have fun, this is inspiring for me.”

Roy is quick to realize her effect on others as an inspirational role model.

“It’s part of the responsibility that I have. … I have been gifted trust, public trust. I don’t take this lightly. When something is gifted, it becomes a gift. Gifts can go on mantles. They can become passive, unmoving, unwavering. It’s in the use of that gift that continues its movement and I have an unwavering curiosity about what my gifts can do.

“Also, like all Indigenous people who are doing community-based work, we’re in it for our lifetime. This is my life commitment, to make our Nations healthier, more loving, more caring, safer, more communal, more rooted in our values. I think that’s why I was brought here.”

Roy was born in Prince Albert, Sask., with her mom Maxine Roy (Dene Métis) and father Bill Parenteau (Cree Métis). She is the youngest of three children on mom’s side and the oldest of three on father's side.

“I grew up primarily with my mom with extraordinary experiences with my dad.”

Roy lived in Prince Albert until she was seven years old before moving to Yorkton, Sask., for third grade through Grade 8 and before later moving to the bigger city of Saskatoon.

“That’s when I started getting into trouble and rebelling.”

While she has called Saskatoon home, she also lived in Oromocto, N.B., and in Lazo, B.C., for a short time as she followed her father around the country as he was in the Canadian army.

“He was a military man and taught me a lot of discipline. My mom gave me humour.”

In a primarily colonizing setting of Saskatchewan, Roy struggled to come to grips with her history.

“I learned a lot about my identity from the education system, but there were so many gaps, so I face the implications of being Indigenous, Aboriginal, Native, what have you, but I didn’t know what it meant to be Dene, to be Cree, to be Métis. This information not being readily available while other information was being fed to me … it didn’t give me a lot to hold on to. And so, being in the state of wonderment of who am I, where do I fit in with being in the context of being Indigenous, how can I see this as a strength. I’m still on that journey still.

“I don’t struggle with my identity anymore. But it took a master’s in public policy in order to understand that Canada comes up with problems. If we were called a problem, it was because we were a problem to Canada. It’s not our problem. So, I have to give the problem back, it’s not mine. So, what is my problem? My problem is my well-being as a human being. So, I can pick Canada up and put it down like a Rubik’s Cube. I have to remember that these are problems like Canada came up with. Canada is lucky to have Indigenous people who are willing to take on the problems that they created.”

Roy’s dedication to herself and to enhance the lives of those around her have garnered many supporters across the country in many disciplines including academia and Canada’s artistic community.

Roy has received several awards for her innovative work in the arts and education. Some of the notable awards she has received include the Queen Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Women of Distinction Award in Saskatoon, the Congress of Aboriginal People Youth Leadership Award, the Indspire Award, and the Indigenous Graduate Leadership Award at USask.

When Roy was 21, she was called to a meeting at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto with former governor general Michaelle Jean. Roy entered the room with no agenda other than learning why she was to meet with the person who once represented the Crown in Canada.

“She asked me, ‘what do you want to do.’ I told her I wanted to tell stories in a creative way. She asked me I would work for her. I said, ‘Yeah, what would you like me to do?’ She said just be yourself. For her to tell me my job was to be myself, I thought, ‘well, I can do that.’”

After sharing some pistachios, Roy left the meeting with the governor general thinking the request was a simple one.

“But as I go through life, I realize how challenging it is to maintain integrity to yourself in this world that benefits from our distractions in every which way. That is a challenge.”

It’s that integrity she speaks about is what was passed to her from the hands of Old People she holds so dear.

-To learn more about Zoey and her work, visit zoeyroy.com





Meet the rest of our 2023 USask Alumni Achievement Award winners.

Get your tickets for this year’s Alumni Achievement Awards gala at Remai Modern, Oct. 19 at 6 pm.