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Wise women of the North honoured

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 11/05) - Women described as amazing role models for other Northern women were honoured for contributions to their communities this week.

The 2005 Wise Women Awards recognized Helen Tobie of the North Slave region, Sister Agnes Sutherland of the South Slave, Alphonsine McNeely of the Sahtu, Tonya Cazon from the Deh Cho and Ruth Wright of the Beaufort-Delta region.

Helen Tobie, a Yellowknives Dene First Nation elder of Dettah, was the North Slave region's recipient of the 2005 Wise Women award.

During the 14th annual Bread n' Roses luncheon, each of the women had the opportunity to address the crowd of 200 at the legislature about the work they do and the significance of receiving the award.

Barbara Saunders, executive director of the Status of Women council of the NWT, said the event is a way to recognize hard work that is often not acknowledged.

Saunders said the women share "incredible patience and understanding and drive to make positive change.

"They also have a drive to balance the inequalities that are happening. That pulls them together quite nicely."

Tobie said it is good to see an award for lifetime work being given out.

"You feel good about it," said Tobie, who was born and raised in Dettah.

"In my life time I stayed home and looked after my family. And I always tried to help, wherever it was needed."

Gerri Sharpe-Staples, a director with the council, said she was pleased to see that some of the winners had been nominated in previous years.

"It's really nice when that happens," Sharpe-Staples said.

The South Slave recipient, Sister Agnes Sutherland, is the founder of Sutherland House, a safe house for women and children.

"I enjoy what I am doing and there is lots to be done. It's just part of my life," Sutherland said.

Promotes healthy lifestyle

Living and promoting a healthy lifestyle is what earned Alphonsine McNeely of the Sahtu region her award.

"It's such an honour and I'm so touched by receiving this award. Words cannot express how I feel now and I'm grateful to the people who selected me," McNeely said after the ceremony.

She is known for her community participation, both in workshops and by working towards the well-being of others.

Tonya Cazon of the Deh Cho region is both an artist and an activist within her community.

She volunteers, organizes family events, hosts workshops and raises awareness about health and social issues for the community.

"To recognize women for their contributions is really important," Cazon said.

"It encourages us to keep going, because it can be hard work and thankless work."

Beaufort-Delta recipient Ruth Wright, said she felt very honoured by receiving the award. "I hope that I will be able to live up to everybody elses' expectations of what it means to be a wise woman.

"But I'm doing what I want to do right now and helping out everybody who needs it. I believe everybody should do what they can with the knowledge they have."