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Wisdom from a lifetime of learning

Kira Curtis
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 21, 2011

INUVIK - Ann Kasook sees her life as a jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces aren't placed yet, and some are lost for good, but each piece of her puzzle has a purpose.

They make up a picture of the caregiver she is today, and give her the strength to hug everyone who walks into the her workplace.

"I like to hug," she giggled from her office as the executive director of the Transition House Society.

It is this love and empathy, combined with a novel's worth of horrific tales, that has helped hundreds, and why she was chosen as one of the NWT Status of Women Council's Wise Women of 2011.

"I'm an ordinary person," she said. "It doesn't mean I'm a perfect person. I do make my own mistakes as well. I still have my own faults. I still smoke."

Most of the time when the doors open at the transitional house, a woman walks in, often escaping an abusive relationship, sometimes carrying the scars of many different forms of abuse.

Kasook greets these women and relates. She has lived a painful life that is all too common for women of the North.

She jokes about how she married young and never got a formal education, but her life is her diploma; every event, a course she passed.

"Today I understand that all that I've been through was my education. I don't have a personal certificate that tells me I have a masters degree, but I say to myself that I have my master's degree. I went through all that I went through in life to be where I am today."

Kasook was born on the land in the 1950s. Her mother had been pulled west against her consent from what is now Nunavut and forced into residential school, where she suffered the loss of her Inuit family.

Shortly after Kasook was born her mother became sick with tuberculosis and was sent to the hospital in Aklavik for a few years.

As a baby, she was taken in by two Norwegian reindeer herders, who would sculpt her life until the age of five. Anna and Mikkel Pulk had grown children when they began caring for Kasook, and so became grandparents to the infant - their children her aunt and uncle.

"There was so much love," she paused, looking beyond the wall, lost in thought for a moment before returning to the conversation. "So much love, that to me, that's what kept me going. To me, I truly believe that they were the ones that instilled this love in me that kept me going through all my difficulties."

One day, when Kasook was around five, she was suddenly taken back to her mother and stepfather. They loved her dearly, but she had been so young when she saw them last, Kasook had no memory of them. She was able to keep the Pulks in her life, but it was only a few years until she found herself a victim of assault in the communities she lived, again and again.

Reflecting on the numbness of her youth, Kasook remembers feeling confused. Why did she deserve this? How could these things happen? How could God let them happen?

When two women she knew well were beaten to death at the hands of their partners, she questioned her faith.

"If he was a loving father, and he could see all things and he has all this power, how can he look down and watch a woman get stripped down, whipped up and cut up down below?" she asked.

"Today I understand that all I've been through in life is my education. He educated me."

Kasook has graduated from a program most university master's students could never survive, and she now uses this hard-won skill to help others change their lives.

"To be able to get it out," Kasook said of what's important for people to do.

"To know that you're not alone. There's many, many others that face situations."

Kasook is proud that she has truly earned each piece she has collected of her life, and wants to empower others to do the same.

Smiling, she turned off the CD of her and her family playing music and singing songs she had wrote, and said of her life's jigsaw puzzle, "I may not have all the pieces yet, but I have enough to form, what I call, a beautiful picture."

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