N.W.T. language and women's advocate remembered in Fort Good Hope
Alphonsine McNeely, a Sahtu Dene translator and women's advocate, died Monday aged 75
Family, friends, and colleagues gathered in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., Saturday to pay their respects to Alphonsine McNeely, a lifelong language and women's advocate.
Alphonsine died Monday night at age 75. The youngest of 12 siblings, she is survived by her brother, five children, 19 grandchildren, and 22 great grandchildren, as well as her husband of 57 years, Wilfred McNeely, Sr.
She is remembered for her work on a number of boards, including the Native Women's Association of the N.W.T., the N.W.T. Seniors' Society, and the Fort Good Hope Justice Committee.
"She always fought for women, throughout her life, and fought for justice," said Wilfred McNeely, Jr., her son.
"It's a great loss for me and my family," he said. "My mother was a real inspiration to all my children, and my wife, and myself."
Relearned language lost in residential school
Alphonsine McNeely attended the Aklavik Roman Catholic Residential School "off-and-on," Wilfred said, from age five to 16.
She told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about abuse she suffered for speaking the Sahtu Dene language, which included having her mouth washed out with soap.
"She lost her language when she went to residential school," said Wilfred, but "she ended up getting it back."
Alphonsine eventually became a translator for the K'asho Got'ine language and was employed at assemblies across the territory until this year.
At the time of her death, she was working on a English-K'asho Got'ine dictionary.
"She was really advocating for our language," said Wilfred.
"She didn't teach any of her children the language," he said. "That was one of her regrets … so she fought hard to try to make sure that it was taught in … schools."
Inspired by her positivity
Wilfred also remembers his mother for her strong religious convictions.
"She read the bible almost every day," he said.
He credits Alphonsine with helping him stop drinking.
"I was really inspired by how my mom loved life, even though she was a survivor of residential school," he said. "It inspired me to stop drinking because … she's always laughing, and I thought to myself, if someone can laugh and enjoy life as much as my mother did after how much hardship she went through, then anybody can be happy if they choose to be."
"She never hated anyone, she never disliked anyone, she always said, 'there's a reason for everything, my son,'" he said.
Alphonsine visited Fort Good Hope's health centre Sunday and was found to have a low heart rate and high blood pressure, Wilfred said.
"My mom never had heart issues in the past … so she went home," he said.
Around 1:50 a.m. Monday, she told her husband she was feeling unwell, and he offered to take her back to the health centre.
"She said, 'no, I'm just going to go to sleep. Maybe that's what I need, is a little bit of rest,'" said Wilfred. "And she died in her sleep just before 2 in the morning on Monday."
When Wilfred spoke to CBC Friday afternoon, family and friends were chartering flights to the community for the funeral Saturday afternoon.
"It's going to be a tough day," he said. "I've never lost anybody close to me before, but my mother was very close."