British Columbia

Author reframes Northern B.C. stories to change perceptions

Instead of denying the painful past and challenging realities of life in Northern B.C., Sarah de Leeuw is illuminating the darkest moments and struggles of the region in the hopes of exposing it's complex beauty.

Indigenous health researcher explores painful stories of the north to highlight its beauty

"Killer on the Loose!' warns a prominent billboard beside Highway 16 in northern B.C., where numerous young women have died and disappeared. (CBC )

In her latest book, Sarah de Leeuw uses some of Northern B.C.'s darkest moments to illuminate the social inequalities facing northern communities.

Where it Hurts is a series of personal essays by the two-time winner of the CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize. It examines issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and the impact of notorious serial killer Cody Legebokoff

Stories like that often dominate the news cycle and don't accurately represent what Northern B.C. has to offer, de Leeuw said. 

She hopes to change that narrative by re-framing the very same stories but in a more nuanced way that celebrates the people who have survived through the hard times.

"I think much of British Columbia, indeed much of Canada has no idea about the richness and resilience of the people in these places." she told CBC's Daybreak North host Robert Doane.

Homegrown talent could fill gaps

To de Leeuw, the north is a beautiful place to call home. She's lived in Haida Gwaii, Terrace and Prince George to name a few places.

But the way the region comes across to those who have never visited or lived there is often negative, according to de Leeuw and that keeps talented professionals away, widening service gaps.

"We have to grow our own," she said.

She said Where it Hurts is meant to inspire northerners to face the challenges of rural and northern living head-on by taking action where they see issues in their communities. 

"I sort of hope it's a call for all of us to pay attention to all of the things that are occurring, often in our backyards."

One way she tackles this is through her work as a professor and researcher in Indigenous health and poverty at the University of Northern British Columbia's Northern Medical Program. 

The NMP, which exists in partnership with the University of British Columbia, aims to train people from the north as doctors, rather than simply count on big-city doctors relocating to the north. She want to see more programs that train professionals who are from the north so they can be a part of the solution. 

Listen to Sarah de Leeuw on CBC's Daybreak North:

With files from Daybreak North