Happy birthday Persis Gruben! N.W.T. elder is 100 years old
Persis was born on Oct. 20, 1918 and she's the last Shingle Point residential school survivor still alive
It's not every day someone turns 100 years old — but Persis Gruben did just that on Saturday.
As Persis was wheeled into Kitti Hall in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., the whole room stood up to sing her a happy birthday.
Persis was born on Oct. 20, 1918. Her family members say she's the oldest person living in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, and she's the last Shingle Point residential school survivor still alive.
The celebrations started at 4 p.m., and for the five hours that Persis was there, the youngest of her 11 kids, Chuck Gruben, was right by her side.
"She said, you have to sit beside me ... the whole time," said Chuck, who's 62 years old.
He said when he brought her home, he asked if she was tired.
"She said, 'yes I was tired a long time ago but I was having so much fun watching the people have fun, that I couldn't leave,'" he recalled.
"She said 'if you go back there, thank the people for me.'"
More than a hundred people came to Persis's birthday party, and about half of them were her relatives.
She is the eldest of seven siblings, and her youngest brother Edward Lennie is the only other sibling still alive. Edward, 83, travelled from Inuvik just for the celebrations.
"They are really attached to each other, and she didn't know he was here… and when they both made eye contact you could see their faces just lighten up," Chuck said.
Throughout the night, guests went up and greeted her and shared stories about her.
"[Whenever I] needed help and I needed understanding, I could always go to her," former N.W.T. premier Nellie Cournoyea said.
She was always the rock of the family.- Chukita Gruben
Visitors came from across the N.W.T., Yukon, Alberta, British Columbia and even Indiana in the U.S.
Persis's granddaughter, Edna Gruben, said the last three times she's returned home from B.C. were for funerals.
"At least this time it's a celebration," Edna said.
"She said she got up this morning, and said she was laying there and [said], I'm 100 years old!'"
Persis's great-granddaughter Chukita Gruben was one of the main organizers for the event Saturday.
She also gave a speech about Persis's history, including that her biological father died in an accident before she was born, and her Gwich'in mother, Sarah, ended up remarrying an Inuvialuit man named Lennie lnglangasuk.
She said Persis was not only an interpreter for the parents, but a leader to her other siblings.
"Lennie lnglangasuk didn't have any sons for quite a few years so Persis had to learn how to do a man's work and a woman's job," said Chukita.
"My nanny was always a giving person … She was always the rock of the family."
The night ended with drum dancing and square dancing.