Lou-ann Neel

Lou-ann Neel
Lou-ann Neel

Category: Indigenous Community Alumni Awards

Name: Lou-ann Neel

UVic degrees and year: Certificate in Administration of Aboriginal Governments, 1995; Diploma in Public Sector Management, 1995.

Other degrees: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Current Hometown: Victoria, BC                                          

Birthplace: Alert Bay, BC

Lou-ann Neel is from the Mamalilikulla people on her mum’s side of the family; and Kwagiulth on her dad’s side of the family. While she carries names from both sides of her family, the one she uses most often is the name Ika’wega (woman of high standing).

Neel is a renowned artist and comes from a rich history of artists, and creates works in various forms–textiles and hides; paintings and prints; jewelry; and vector (digital) designing. She was the first Indigenous Curator in the history of the Royal BC Museum, caring for the Indigenous Collections.

She is an active volunteer and advocate seeking changes to the Copyright Act and other cultural and intellectual-property laws.

Q: What was the moment you realized your career calling? 

LN: Oddly enough, when I was still a student and working in a government department for the summer, I had completed all my assigned tasks and decided to dust several shelves that needed cleaning. As I was dusting, I opened one of the binders and started to read it. It turned out to be a policy binder for the department where I worked, so I decided to keep reading. I had always avoided reading policy because I heard from others that it was not easy to follow, however, I actually found it fascinating and knew from that day forward that my career would involve policy–whether it was interpreting policy into practice, editing, or being part of a team that writes policy.

Q: Many people are not following one career for life. What other work might interest you in the future, even as a hypothetical? 

LN: I have always balanced two careers–my professional career in management, and my career as a practising visual artist. I think the two go together really well–each providing inspiration for the other, and together providing a balanced lifestyle. As I plan the last decade or so of my work as a manager, I look forward to reaching retirement and continuing the rest of my life as a fulltime practising artist.

Q: What is a movie or television show that always makes you laugh?

LN: My favorite television show that makes me laugh is the Big Bang Theory. I love it for the laughs, and I love how it inspires both my work in management and my work as an artist.

Q: The pandemic has come with lessons for many of us. What is something you learned that you will carry forward with you? 

LN: The pandemic certainly has come with many lessons, and the biggest one for me is that I am absolutely okay working from home. I learned that once I get started with my day, it doesn’t matter where I am situated – at the office or at home – I get focused and get on with my day.

Over the last two years, my coworkers and I have created a balance of Zoom meetings and outdoor meetings, so I think the biggest lesson has been that we can come up with manageable, workable solutions to any problem if we work together and build solutions together.

Q: What is your favourite memory of being a student UVIc?

LN: My favourite memory was the time spent with my cohort in the Administration of Aboriginal Governments Program back in 1993-94. The cohort was an all First Nations group, and it was one of the first times in my professional career that I got to talk openly and honestly about the history of colonization.

I believe these discussions really helped me strengthen my voice and to build my confidence as an advocate for our human rights as First Nations people.  


For the full list of 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, click here.