North

'Everybody's aunty, everybody's elder': Respected Dene elder Muriel Betsina dies

Muriel Betsina, known as a Dene matriarch in Ndilo, N.W.T., has died, her son has confirmed.

Betsina, 76, died Monday, according to her son Chief Ernest Betsina

Muriel Betsina back in 2015. Betsina died on Monday at the age of 76. (CBC)

Muriel Betsina, known as a Dene matriarch in Ndilo, N.W.T., died on Monday, her son has confirmed. She was 76.

Betsina grew up living in the bush in the Sahtu region of the N.W.T. As a young girl, she was sent to residential school in Fort Resolution. Soon after graduating, she moved to Yellowknife and met her husband, Frank Betsina.

For years Betsina worked as a baker for the now shuttered Con Mine, and spoke out about the impacts mining had on Ndilo and her people.

She was considered an expert on the history of Ndilo, which she attributed to the stories passed down from her mother-in-law. 

Her son Ernest Betsina, who is the chief of Ndilo, said he'll tell his grandchildren stories about his mother, who he called a beautiful person.

"My mom, I've got so much good memories," he said. "My mother, basically from childhood, the teachings that she taught me — to be a good person, a good man, a good family man, to represent my people."

Muriel Betsina at her home in Ndilo, N.W.T., in 2018. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Ernest Betsina called his mother a good role model. He said he would bring his troubles to her, and seek advice. She'd tell him a story and he says he would have to find the lesson in it.

"The memories keep flowing, all the smiles I have. It's such a beautiful thing, that will stay with me for a long, long time."

Since news of her death has circulated, he's been hearing stories about his mother from people all across the N.W.T. 

"Her legacy, she always treats people with respect. She would treat everybody the same. She would talk to people, not talk down to them, but talk with them."

'The memories keep flowing, all the smiles I have. It's such a beautiful thing, that will stay with me for a long, long time,' says Ernest Betsina. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

'The glue that keeps people together'

Betsina had an open-door policy at her home in Ndilo, where she let in people off the street who might be in trouble.

"I don't want nobody to freeze," she told CBC in 2018. "So I open my door."

Maggie Mercredi was a teenager when she first met Betsina. She remembered being amazed by Betsina's liveliness and elegance — she made eye contact and treated others with kindness. 

"She's opened her home to so many people that it's almost like she's everybody's aunty, everybody's elder, everybody's granny," said Mercredi.

Betsina became close with members of Mercredi's family. She would bring Mercredi's grandmother dry meat, and spend hours on the phone with Mercredi's mother, chatting and telling stories. 

A former residential school student, Betsina made a significant contribution to the development of lessons on the history and legacy of residential schools that are now mandatory elements of the high school curriculum, said Mercredi. 

Maggie Mercredi was a teenager when she first met Betsina. She remembered being amazed by Betsina's liveliness and elegance. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Betsina was open about her own experiences in residential schools, said Mercredi. She shared her stories with new teachers, and with organizations that asked for training for their staff.

"She would contribute by helping them understand the effects of residential schools and colonization on the individual, the woman that she is, and also the community that she comes from, and her family and extended family," said Mercredi. 

She's opened her home to so many people that it's almost like she's everybody's aunty, everybody's elder, everybody's granny.- Maggie Mercredi

Betsina was also known for her strong faith, and for speaking out about injustice.

Mercredi said many will feel Betsina's absence. 

"She's like that glue that keeps people together, that keeps people grounded and supportive of each other." 

With files from Loren McGinnis