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Gwich'in elder remembered
Elizabeth Crawford-Hansen was a protector and promoter of Gwich'in language and culture

Nathalie Heiberg-Harrison
Northern News Services
Thursday, September 8, 2011

When Elizabeth Crawford-Hansen moved into the hospital during the last stages of her fight against ALS a physically degenerative disease she asked staff if she could set up an office there to continue her work developing the Gwich'in language curriculum for the Beaufort Delta Education Council.

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Elizabeth Crawford Hansen, pictured here in 2008 during her tenure as chair of the Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board, was active in promoting Gwich'in language and culture in the Beaufort Delta up until her death on Aug. 29. - NNSL file photo

The Inuvik General Hospital allowed it, and she got to work right away, not willing to give up on her lifelong passion just because the hospital became her permanent home.

Staff at the long-term care ward where she stayed said she would often go upstairs, with her "brains" what she called the collection of computer memory sticks she carried around to work on the computers there.

"She was an icon, when you think about what she did for the Gwich'in language," said Doug Robertson, who got to know the 71-year-old through her work at Aurora College in Inuvik.

"She's certainly one of the most qualified Gwich'in teachers around. She spent her life teaching the language and working to preserve it."

For the hundreds who attended her funeral last Saturday in Fort McPherson, Crawford-Hansen's life, which began at Caribou Lake in the Yukon on Nov. 13, 1939, was something to be celebrated.

She was raised on the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers, near Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic, and spent much of her early years at camp making dry fish, picking berries and doing chores.

She attended both the All Saints Residential School in Aklavik and the All Saints Residential School in Prince Albert, Sask., before receiving her teaching certificate from the University of Saskatchewan in 1961.

She got her first job in Hay River, making her the territory's first aboriginal teacher, and went on to teach in Deline, Fort McPherson and Inuvik during a career that spanned nearly 40 years.

"Her knowledge of and enthusiasm for the Gwich'in language will forever be remembered through her work with the Gwich'in language curriculum," stated Jackson Lafferty, minister of Education, Culture and Employment, in a press release following Crawford-Hansen's death.

Just this past May she attended the Beaufort Delta aboriginal student achievement regional forum in Inuvik, and, for the past two years, she worked at Aurora College part-time in the aboriginal language instructors program.

She was also a member of the Beaufort Delta Education Council and acted as a consultant for the Gwich'in language instruction program until her death.

Her passion to preserve the Gwich'in language and culture was most evident through her work with children, which continued even after she retired. She taught traditional skills to local students at the Rachel Reindeer Wellness Camp, about a 15-minute drive outside Inuvik on the Mackenzie River.

In 2008, after the camp had its official opening, Crawford-Hansen spoke with Inuvik Drum about how important her work there was.

"We know that the traditional skills are not being taught to them," she said. "These programs need to continue because it gives these students a connection to the land."

Education was her passion and empowering students through teaching was a goal she couldn't give up, even when ALS took its toll on her body.

Robertson said her knowledge and expertise was virtually unmatched, and finding someone new to carry the torch will be challenging.

"She was a very strong lady, very confident," he said.

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