Northwest Territories: a determined presence in difficult climes

By Carmen Michaud, Animator for Alberta and the Northwest Territories

Carmen Michaud dines with members of the Yellowknife community in the Northwest Territories.
Carmen Michaud dîne avec des membres de la communauté de Yellowknife, dans les Territoires du Nord-Ouest.
Alberta and Northwest Territories animator Carmen Michaud (second from right) enjoyed many hearty meals with Bishop Jon Hansen (third from right), diocesan chair Suzette Montreuil (second from left) and others of the Yellowknife community. (Maureen Miller)

In a country as large as Canada, it is easy to lose track of how widespread the voices for social justice, solidarity and the mission of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada are. Earlier this month, I had the amazing opportunity to spend four days in the company of our most northern diocesan council in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories.

For over three decades, diocesan council chair Suzette Montreuil has nurtured a small but dedicated presence for us in the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. Her persistence has resulted in a burgeoning core group of people who are committed to social justice and the mission of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada and to addressing the issues of living that commitment in a region where parishes are geographically spread out and isolated.

A passionate, creative, committed team

Suzette Montreuil leads campaign activities in the Northwest Territories.
Suzette Montreuil dirige les activités des campagnes dans les Territoires du Nord-Ouest.
Diocesan council chair Suzette Montreuil has spearheaded Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada’s campaigning and fundraising in the Northwest Territories for over 30 years. (Carmen Michaud)

The diocesan council is made up of passionate people who come with a diverse set of skills and experiences. They are a warm, loving, smart bunch of people! They bring with them connections to media, schools, clergy, Indigenous peoples, politicians, and social activist groups in the North.

Another key supporter of Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada is the Most Rev. Jon Hansen, Bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith and member of our national council. He not only lends his approval to our campaigns but also actively participates and promotes events, and strongly advocates for us amongst his parishioners and clergy.

This diocesan council has worked hard to heighten our organization’s profile in their large region, with creativity and diligence. During the last Share Lent campaign, the group went a step further by providing used containers with the Solidarity Jar labels already attached and the collection date written on the inside lid. This was a huge hit with parishioners who grabbed them up after Masses. To advertise the in-person campaign workshop for the fall edition of the Stand for the Land campaign, they made elegant wedding-style invitation cards, a special touch that elevated the workshop to a special event. Thanks to their efforts, École St. Patrick High School in Yellowknife is the most northerly registrant in our D&P Schools Program!

A welcome that couldn’t be warmer

During my time in Yellowknife, between a workshop for all the diocesan clergy; a meeting with key teacher-leaders; a campaign workshop; planning meetings with the diocesan council; three talks at Masses; and staffing a table during two Knights of Columbus breakfasts, I got to experience the hospitality that the North is famous for.

I was greeted at the airport by Bishop Jon Hansen, who took out time from his busy schedule to receive me. He also hosted me at the Trapper’s Lake Spirituality Centre situated a few kilometres out of the city on the edge of a beautiful lake with a picturesque island just offshore. In addition to being Bishop Hansen’s home, the Centre is the retirement home (after 37+ years of episcopal service) of Bishop Emeritus Denis Croteau. The retired bishop, who quite literally built this peaceful retreat, still says Mass here every day, at the age of 92. I don’t think I will ever again experience the delight of having a glass of wine and a Chinese takeout dinner with two bishops!

In the days that followed, over several lunches, dinners and tours of the city that punctuated the meetings and events, I was privileged to not only get to know people more closely, but also to benefit from the experiences and perspectives that they bring as northerners. I was treated like family. Stories were told. It felt like having a ringside seat to some of the most key events in northern history. And I now have several good cafes and restaurants that I can recommend if you are ever going to Yellowknife!

Shared challenges

We had several conversations about the challenges, efficacy and relevancy of advocating for people of the Global South amongst people who themselves experience many of the same conditions and inequities. The people of the North are all too familiar with forces like those that impact on life in the Global South.

Much of the economy is extraction-based and the impacts on the environment from those industries is high. Food access and sovereignty are a daily challenge for many, and inequality in health care access is rampant. Indigenous and traditional cultures have been suppressed and marginalized, and traditional ways of life have been disrupted. The climate crisis is probably more evident in this region than anywhere else in Canada. This summer’s forest fires that necessitated the evacuation of the whole city of Yellowknife and many other regions of the Northwest Territories have brought home how vulnerable the North is. Global inequity and the need for social justice are a lived experience here.

I left the North not only with wonderful warm memories and a wild lake trout gifted by Bishop Hansen, but also with a very real appreciation of how hard and with how much dedication our members work, sometimes even in the face of seeming indifference and great physical challenges. My trip also made me reflect on how this is exactly the way we walk with our partners and so many people in the Global South.

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