Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

90 years of wisdom

Chris Hunsley
Northern News Services

Aklavik (Mar 28/05) - It has been 90 years since Mary Kendi was born near the Peel River Channel across from Aklavik and to this day, her spirit and wisdom still help to direct and inspire the community she was born into.

A former Wise Woman Award winner, Kendi celebrated her birthday earlier this month surrounded by friends and family at the Sittichinli Recreation Complex in Aklavik.

With friends and family from across the territory in attendance, Mary Kendi celebrated her 90th birthday at the Sittichinli Recreation Complex in Aklavik earlier this month. - Chris Hunsley/NNSL photo

"She's a highly respected lady," said Fannie Greenland, who's known Kendi her entire life.

She's deeply involved in band and public meetings and always acts as a role model to the youth, she said.

Kendi's years spent living on the land with her parents, and then husband, and a wealth of life experience have made her an invaluable resource to Aklavik and the North in general. "She spends a lot of time travelling to meetings and they use her a lot for her wisdom," said Mabel Brown, one of Kendi's nine children.

"My mother, who was schooled until Grade 3, sits on the elders' council, teaches trapping and fishing, promotes use of the Gwich'in language and culture through the Gwichi'in Social and Cultural Institute; she's travelled to Ottawa to give instruction about museum exhibits, and even attended women's conferences in Kenya in 1974, Brown said.

"By travelling I learned a lot about the land and people," said Kendi, who's extensive journeys have taken her throughout the NWT, Yukon, Alaska and British Columbia and other parts of Canada.

"So I use that knowledge to help my community and the youth."

After her husband Alfred passed away in 1965, though, Kendi's future would keep her closer to the community.

There were no social services then, said Brown.

"We had to live off the land," she said, explaining that her father had died one year before the RCMP extended widow's benefits for special constables.

Affinity for arts and crafts

But Kendi's skills, taught to her by her mother, and a life-long affinity for arts and crafts make her the perfect choice as manager of Aklavik's Arts and Crafts store.

Now retired, Kendi, who's also known for her ability to cheer anyone up with a story, continues to sew to augment her income. But only as she needs.

"I did my best in my life and now I relax and I'm happy," she said. "I had a good life."

Her message to those who attended her birthday party:

"I'd like to give my greatness to the people who celebrated my birthday," she said.

"I hope they have a good birthday themselves when their birthday comes up."