“How I Survived” is a research project about recreation at residential and day schools in the NWT that was initiated by the NWTRPA and Gwichyà Gwich’in historian Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser in 2018. Progress on the project has been slow as a result of the pandemic and administrative hurdles, but we remain committed to this work and sharing the stories of Survivors and intergenerational Survivors. In this post, we will introduce you to the members of the committee that is guiding this project, and also to the project co-leads.
You can learn more about “How I Survived” here.
Paul Andrew (Shúhtaot'ı̨nę, or Mountain Dene) was born in the Mackenzie Mountains and raised on the land and in the community of Tulı́t'a, then called Fort Norman. He spent his early years learning Dene traditions. Paul was first taken to residential school when he was eight years old; he spent seven years at residential school. Elected chief of Tulı́t'a at the age of 22, Paul also served as the vice president of the Dene Nation. Paul went on to become a journalist, spending almost 30 years with the CBC, working in both radio and TV. Paul has received numerous awards, including the Order of the NWT and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award. Paul is a resident of Yellowknife and is well known for his work in culture, residential school education, and healing. Paul is a student of Dene history, cosmology, pharmacology, ecology, and spirituality, and a singer of Dene love songs. Paul is retired and living in Yellowknife.
Dr. Sharon Firth
Dr. Sharon Firth (Teetł’it Gwich’in) was born in Akłarvik (Aklavik), but her family moved to Inuuvik (Inuvik) when she was five. Sharon and her twin sister, Shirly, learned to ski with the Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) program while at residential school. The Firth sisters went on to compete in four Olympic Winter Games and three World Championships. Sharon was a Canadian national ski champion 39 times. Sharon has been inducted into the Canadian Skiing Hall of Fame, the Northwest Territories Sport Hall of Fame, and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She is also the recipient of the John Semmelink Memorial Award from the Canadian Ski Association, the Commissioner’s Award from the Government of the Northwest Territories, the Order of Sport (Canada’s highest sporting honour), and the Order of Canada. Following her retirement from sport, Sharon settled in Yellowknife, where she worked as a youth programs advisor and inspired young people through skiing. In 2017, Sharon was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Alberta. Now retired, Sharon lives with her husband in Canmore, Alberta. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta.
Amos Scott is a Tłı̨chǫ Dene filmmaker, photographer, and student. Amos started his career in journalism, working for CKLB, CBC North, and APTN National News. Amos wrote, created, directed, and produced the television program Dene: A Journey. The program’s two seasons aired on APTN in 2013 and 2015. Amos is one of the founders of Dene Nahjo, a Dene innovation and arts collective, and the principal of Adze Studios, which helps organizations and businesses produce high-quality HD videos and digital content for web, presentations, and marketing. He has travelled extensively in the North and loves working with smaller communities in the NWT. Since December 2021, Amos has been the project director for the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle. He is also the research manager for Dene Nahjo. In that capacity, he has been researching the early days of the Dene Nation. Amos loves to get out in the bush to learn from his ancestors.
Lorna Storr was born in Akłarvik (Aklavik) and raised in Teetł’it Zheh (Fort McPherson). Her parents are Jane Bonnetplume and Johnny D. Charlie Sr. Lorna first went to residential school when she was six years old. After graduation, Lorna and her husband, Bill Storr, spent a year as supervisors at Fleming Hall, a residential school in Teetł’it Zheh. The experience sparked an interest in working with children. In 1974, Lorna and Bill moved to Akłarvik, and Lorna was hired as an assistant at Moose Kerr School. After completing the Teacher Education Program at what was then called Arctic College, Lorna taught at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School in Inuuvik (Inuvik) and Moose Kerr. Lorna was inducted into the NWT Education Hall of Fame in 2014. For more than twenty years, Lorna has been supporting and mentoring young athletes as a coach and official. Lorna has served on the boards of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association and the Aboriginal Sport Circle of the NWT. Today, Lorna works as a cultural support worker for the Gwich’in Tribal Council in Akłarvik and sits on the Aklavik District Education Council.
Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser
Crystal Gail Fraser (she/her) is Gwichyà Gwich'in (also of English and Scottish ancestry), originally from Inuvik and Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik, Northwest Territories. She is the granddaughter of Marka Andre and Richard Bullock and the great-granddaughter of Julienne The’dahcha (Andre) and Jean Tsell. Crystal is currently an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Native Studies and the Department of History, Classics, and Religion at the University of Alberta, on Treaty 6 territory. Crystal's PhD research focused on the history of student experiences at Indian Residential Schools in the Inuvik Region between 1959 and 1996. She was awarded the 2020 John Bullen Prize by the Canadian Historical Association for her thesis, titled T’aih k’ìighe’ tth’aih zhit dìidìch’ùh or By Strength We Are Still Here. Crystal serves on national and international committees; she is a member of the Governing Circle of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and the National Advisory Committee on Residential School Missing Children and Unmarked Graves. Crystal is also director at Gwich'in Council International. In 2022, Crystal was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Academic Early Career Award from the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations.
Dr. Jess Dunkin
Jess Dunkin (she/her) is a settler historian and writer who has lived in Sǫ̀mba K’è (Yellowknife, NT), Treaty 8 territory and homeland of the Yellowknives Dene, since 2015. Trained at Trent University and Carleton University as a social historian of sport and leisure, Jess’s research interests have shifted since moving north in response to community collaborations and priorities to also include histories of residential schooling, land relations, and industrial development.
Jess was a full-time staff member at the NWTRPA from 2015-20. She continues to work with the NWTRPA as the project manager of “How I Survived.” Jess is a Research Associate at Aurora College and an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Canoe and Canvas: Life at the Encampments of the American Canoe Association, 1880−1910 (UTP, 2019).