'Making sure they're always #1': Much loved N.W.T. teacher retires

Much loved K'àlemì Dene School teacher Eileen Erasmus has retired after 20 years of teaching at the school in Ndilo, N.W.T.

Educator Eileen Erasmus touched many lives in her almost 20 years at K'àlemì Dene School in Ndilo

Eileen Erasmus, here with Gabe ‘Mr. Bannock’ Doctor earlier this year, has retired after almost 20 years at K'àlemì Dene School in Ndilo. (Joanne Stassen/CBC)

Eileen Erasmus will no longer be a daily presence at K'àlemì Dene School in Ndilo, near Yellowknife. Thursday was her last day at the school in the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of approximately 200.

But 'Miss E,' as she was affectionately called by students at the school, will not soon be forgotten.

Frank Betsina Jr. said he wouldn't be where he is today if it hadn't been for Eileen Erasmus, who retired this week from K'àlemì Dene School in Ndilo. (Submitted by Frank Betsina Jr.)

Erasmus is retiring after almost 20 years of teaching at the school. Along the way she touched many hearts and lives.

"Miss E has been there since the beginning," said Frank Betsina Jr.

Betsina is now a trades student at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. He said his life — and the lives of many others — would not be on track if it were not for her presence in their lives at school.

Betsina said Erasmus organized student trips every year, and made sure they happened.

"She got the funding," Betsina said. "A lot of us there didn't have much money, so we couldn't pay … what other schools could pay."

"Those trips made us realize there's more to the world than just Yellowknife." 

'Everyone looks after each other'

Erasmus said most of her career was spent in the North, and she's seen the school transform over the years. The school started out as kindergarten to Grade 8, with about 28 students. Now with a high school program, K'àlemì Dene has up to 120 students at any given time.

Eileen Erasmus, centre, with students and staff of K'àlemì Dene School at the N.W.T. Legislative Assembly. (Submitted by Eileen Erasmus)

She said school staff, students and the community are very tight knit.

"Everyone looks after each other," Erasmus said. "We hit bumps in the road but for the most part we stick together and … we try to put each other's well-being first."

Erasmus said one of her fondest memories of her career is of when the school graduated its first group of high school students in 2010.

In a tribute to her posted on the K'àlemì Dene School Facebook page, Erasmus is credited as having been integral to the growth and expansion of the school to the point where that first graduating class was possible.

She's was awarded the Primer Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009, and was inducted into the N.W.T. Education Hall of Fame in 2019.

Today's 'medicine power'

Meagan Wowk, the school principal, counts herself lucky to have been Erasmus's colleague.

Meagan Wowk said she was privileged to have spent her entire career so far working with Eileen Erasmus. (Yellowknife Education District 1)

"Eileen is a force to be reckoned with," Wowk said.

"She is always positive and always sees the best in people and our students — she sees their future so clearly and fights every step of the way for it … making sure that they're always number one."

Erasmus is modest in her own self-assessment.

"I feel like I'm getting a lot of recognition but I'm a cog in the wheel," she said. "You know there's an amazing team down here and I've been really lucky to be a part of it."

She said the key to the school's success has been the relationships that develop between staff and students. 

"That's one of the reasons why our school does so well — our teachers have been here for a long time and they stay and they … build relationships and they love our kids," she said.

Erasmus said education is the great equalizer.

"It can help you do anything you put your mind to," she said.

For her parting thoughts she chose the words of the late Yellowknives Dene First Nation Elder Michel Paper.

"He said education is today's medicine power."

With files from Lawrence Nayally


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