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Fort Providence educator honored
Margaret Thom inducted into Education Hall of Fame

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Fort Providence educator has been honoured for her commitment to education.

NNSL photo/graphic

Education Minister Jackson Lafferty, left, inducts Margaret Thom into the Education Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Yellowknife on May 29. - photo courtesy of the Department of Education, Culture and Employment

Margaret Thom was one of seven territorial residents inducted into the NWT Education Hall of Fame during a ceremony held at the legislative assembly's Great Hall in Yellowknife on May 29. The hall of fame was created in 2010 to recognize the important and lasting contributions of people dedicated to education in the North.

Thom said she was "totally shocked" when she was informed she would be included in the hall of fame. She later felt both excited and honoured.

Thom has been a community councillor at Deh Gah Elementary and Secondary School for more than 20 years. She said the exact number of years doesn't matter. What is important is being there for the students, she said.

Thom began her career at the school as an aboriginal language instructor.

"I saw the need for healing with the students in order for them to fully embrace the language," she said.

Training to become a community councillor took her away from Fort Providence for three years. Thom said what the students need, however, is quite basic.

"I found just being kind and gentle and understanding with the students, that is the thing," she said.

Thom said she tries to listen to students and then provide and guide them with options. No one can do it for them, she said they have to think about it and make decisions for themselves. In addition to empowering students to make decisions Thom said she tries to teach them respect and commitment.

Thom also promotes incorporating traditional teachings into the school.

"The language and the culture is our foundation," she said.

Going out on the land, into the environment is important, she said. On June 10, Thom took a group of students onto the land for a week for a Rites of Passage camp. This year's focus was on relationships. This is just one of many camps Thom has been part of.

On the land, students make the transition from their life in the community to the totally different environment. After they make that transition, all of their senses open up to the teachings, she said.

Thom said the students are very respectful of the ceremonies. The traditional values, including living in harmony, are slowly starting to come back, she said.

Her commitment to students doesn't end as graduation nears.

For a number of years, Thom has taken groups of students on college and university tours, mostly in British Columbia to schools that have First Nations faculties, and support systems in place for aboriginal students. Thom has followed up on those trips by returning with approximately 15 students who have been accepted into the colleges and universities.

Thom stays with the students for approximately two weeks to help them to adjust to their new surroundings. She helps the students with everything from finding apartments, locating furniture, learning the bus routes they will use to making sure they are properly registered and know where their classes are on campus.

"It's a lot of work but it's very well worth it," she said.

Thom said she believes the support she provides absolutely improves the students' chances of success when moving from a small community to a large centre.

"It's a relief for me to know I've done what I can."

Thom said she hasn't reached this place in her life alone.

"I need to thank a lot of people for where I am," she said.

Those people include Thom's husband, daughters, grandchildren and the people in her life that form her support network as well as all of the students she has worked with.

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