Go back

NNSL Logo .
 Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad Print window Print this page

The NWT's wisest women

Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 05, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Each year the NWT Status of Women Council honours five women in the NWT for their dedication to making their communities stronger and healthier.

Dubbed wise women, this year's recipients are Aklavik's Rachel Munday, Trout Lakes; Bertha Deneron, Dora Cardinal, from Fort Resolution, Tulita's Julie Lennie and Yellowknife's Sue Heron-Herbert. The five will receive their awards on March 8.

Rachel Munday has only been in Aklavik for two years, but has already received an award usually reserved for longstanding members of the community.

Samantha DeChief, who is executive and programs assistant for the Council, said Munday is deserving of the award despite her short time in Aklavik.

She has done so much since 2004, DeChief said, it's not surprising people nominated her this year.

Rita Arey, who works in the health centre as a social worker, was among those who put Munday's name forward.

"She's done a lot in our community in the short time that she's been here," Arey said.

"Everyone has the highest regard for her as the nurse in charge, and she's been involved in a lot of volunteering in the community. She's an excellent role model."

Arey said Munday was the hamlet's nurse in charge during last year's flood.

"She was like the anchor, making sure everyone was following what their duties were. She played a big role during the flood," she said.

"The biggest thing from everyone is they commented how concerned she is about the general health of the community. She's a very loving, compassionate, caring person."

One of Munday's activities is volunteering with a youth group, which meets twice a week for crafts.

She also helps organize the elders' tea at the hamlet's health centre.

In addition, Arey said Munday helps with the literacy program at Moose Kerr school and volunteers with the local Anglican church where she leads the youth choir and plays the piano during services.

Bertha Deneron doesn't consider herself to be someone who's likely to win an award for being a wise woman.

"I don't look at myself that way. I'm an everyday person," she said.

"I was shocked when they told me I'd won the Wise Woman award," said Deneron.

She is employed as a community health worker in Trout Lake. The position means that people often look up to her, she said.

"I never turn anyone down," she said. "I'll always be there for the people."

In giving advice, Deneron draws from her own life experiences.

Born in Trout Lake, Deneron attended residential schools in Fort Simpson and Fort Smith from the time she was four-and-a-half until she was 15.

Students in residential schools were always under constant supervision. As a result when she left the schools, Deneron said she wasn't sure what path to take and looked for someone to give her direction. She slowly broke away from that dependency and decided to live a clean life.

Part of that decision involved giving up alcohol. Deneron chose to be sober when she entered a teacher's course at Aurora College in Fort Smith.

Deneron has now been sober for 13 years.

"I came a long way," she said.

Deneron continues to volunteer as a substitute teacher at Charles Tetcho school. She said she talks to the students about the difference between right and wrong and how to have a positive attitude towards people.

Dora E. Cardinal, 86, is being recognized for her many volunteer contributions to Fort Resolution.

Among other things, she was a dedicated fundraiser over the years for St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church by selling mitts, moccasins and other traditionally-made clothing.

Dora Cardinal also translated all of the church's hymn books into the Chipewyan language.

Her granddaughter recalled helping make the new hymn books over two decades ago. "I think we made about 20 each."

Cardinal also undertook a two-year project of translating an English dictionary into Chipewyan for Deninu School and was the first Chipewyan language instructor at the school.

In addition, she raised seven children on her own and encouraged women to stand up for themselves.

"She has a big heart," said her granddaughter.

Cardinal also taught two of her sons how to play guitar, and they went on to perform for many years in the band The Native Cousins.

For the past several years, Cardinal has lived at Woodland Manor seniors' home in Hay River.

Cynthia Cardinal will accept the Wise Woman Award for her grandmother at the upcoming presentation ceremony in Yellowknife.

As traditions can die fast when an oral society is launched into modern ways, women like Julie Lennie are vital in keeping those traditions alive.

Having just turned 80, Lennie lived the first 60 years of her life out on the land. She learned traditional ways from her mother, who died when she was 17, leaving her to take on her mother's tasks to help her father and her two brothers.

"Kids these days are off to school too early, so they don't know anything about the bush," said Lennie. "You have to respect everything, now it's not like that, it's different."

Lennie shares her traditional knowledge of tanning hides and sewing traditional clothing with young mothers and at local schools. She was a band member of the Tulita Justice Committee, and is an active Elder in the community.

A friend, Theresa Horassi, nominated Lennie.

"She's never been recognized for her contributions to Tulita," said Horassi. With her birthday a couple of days before the ceremony, Horassi wanted Lennie to get something back for all of her contributions.

Joanne Lennie, Julie's adopted daughter, says that with Julie's life experience, she is a strong point in the community in getting things accomplished.

"She's very strong, she has a lot of courage, I just can't put it all into words," said Joanne. "She sees something that can be done and she'll get it don't."

- With files from Christine Grimard, Paul Bickford, Philippe Morin and Roxanna Thompson