Newspaper reporters write hundreds of stories a year. This holiday season Gazette staff writers have picked out their one favourite story from 2012 and are recounting what made it special.
When I phoned retired senator Thelma Chalifoux and asked if I might interview her for a September Our People profile, she said that she was unwell. Nonetheless, despite having just come out of the hospital, she made time for me and we met for several hours in her home.
One thing that became very clear throughout the interview is that Chalifoux remains fiery and passionate about working for Métis rights. The way she explained why she has championed their cause her entire adult life was inspiring and left a lasting impression on me.
Chalifoux’s accomplishments are many. Beginning in 1971, she worked with the Alberta Métis Association’s welfare department and she led the fight for Métis land rights. She worked to get more industry, such as lumber mills, in the northern communities so they would provide places of employment for her people. Later she worked with the Department of Northern Development and the Slave Lake Community Action Group to get better housing and schooling in those areas.
“If you see discrimination, if you don’t act, you fail,” Chalifoux said.
As a senator she worked on such issues as making sure that the Canadian Pension Plan was retained, so that all people, especially poor Métis and First Nations peoples, would have a guaranteed income in their old age.
Chalifoux’s health is an ongoing struggle. She is 83 years old and yet she is not retired. She still goes to NAIT once a week to serve as an elder at the Encana Aboriginal Student Centre and she still works to get funding for the Michif Institute, which she founded. She works at the Centre for Women on Meadowview Drive and she makes frequent visits to Poundmaker Lodge.
On a recent visit to Poundmaker Lodge one man told a staff member that he was so excited to see “the senator.” The knowledge that she has helped others to be stronger is what continues to drive her, she said.
Of her resolve to keep on fighting for equal rights for all, she thought of that recovering alcoholic at Poundmaker and quite simply said, “I’ll be retired for thousands of years when I die. How do you say no when someone is hurting and you have the ability to give them a hug?”
It’s hard to choose just one. There are so many stories and individuals that stand out as I reflect on my 10 months at the St. Albert Gazette.
My first few days in late February were spent covering the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games, which inspired me on a personal level to get active in my community.
In late April, I had the pleasure of teaming up with skilled reporters in our newsroom to cover the spring’s provincial election – the first provincial election I had ever covered.
This past summer I started following the story of six-year-old Halle Popowich, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and in need of a bone marrow transplant. After her story went public, more than 600 Albertans responded by adding themselves to the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network. A match was found and she received a transplant at the beginning of November.
I also distinctly remember the story of Samantha Martin, the St. Albert girl who died at age 13, just six months after leaving foster care. The public fatality inquiry, released at the beginning of November, detailed a series of slip-ups in the system that truly failed this vulnerable child. Her biological mother, Velvet Martin, has since become an advocate for disabled children, successfully turning devastating circumstances into something remarkable.
The story that sticks out the most, however, is a series of recent stories surrounding racism in sport. Our photographer, April Bartlett, was courageous enough to speak out when she saw injustice while shooting at a local hockey game, even though it could put her professional relationships in jeopardy. Her willingness to come forward inspired numerous other individuals to report incidents of racism.
It’s a sensitive topic that seems to be ignored by many and the few that have spoken up deserve to be recognized for refusing to stand idly by.
People often have presupposed images of poverty: of dark and dingy homes, of scruffy clothes, of littered front lawns in trailer parks.
Margaret Chafe’s home is nothing like that.
In fact, there is little about her apartment (besides her abundant love of candles and flowers) that would set her apart from the rest of St. Albert’s residents.
That is, if you ignore that the food on her shelves comes pre-packaged in boxes, and that after paying rent and utilities she lives on about $60 a month.
When I first moved to St. Albert, I was greeted warmly into a community that prides itself on well-kept front lawns, its residents’ higher education and a small-town feel in a city setting.
I also knew that every community, no matter how good the looks, has its issues.
With that in mind (and considering overall housing prices), I was still surprised to hear the number of those in need.
Since January, the St. Albert Food Bank and Community Village has helped about 630 families in need. About 50 to 70 of them are looking for subsidized or affordable housing.
I have written on issues of poverty before, met people in conditions similar to those of Mrs. Chafe, and lived with some who barely made ends meet.
That’s why my story on affordable housing touched me the most.
Many of the people I’ve met here and in the past did not fit the general description of “the poor,” neither in their looks nor in their behaviour.
Yet the notion of the unkempt, disordered family remains in people’s minds. Perhaps that’s why we are reluctant to consider the poor as part of our communities.
St. Albert’s tree-lined boulevards, small shops and cozy cafĂ©s can easily overshadow what’s beneath the surface. But like any other community, the poor, the neglected and the abused call this place home.
And perhaps the best way to make their lives a little better and to bring about some change is to give them a voice.