Gwich’in Elder Sarah Jerome has been appointed to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada by the federal government. It will be the second time she sits on the board; her first time was decades ago.
Jerome, originally from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., first served on the board for about two years in the mid 1980s.
She doesn’t remember there being 16 board members at the time.
“There were very few of us and I was very intimidated because there was no other First Nations sitting on that board,” said Jerome.
According to a news release from Parks Canada, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) was created in 1919. The board advises the minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada on the national significance of places, people and events that have made an impact on the country.
“Together, Parks Canada and the board ensure that subjects of national historic significance are recognized and these important stories are shared with Canadians,” the release says.
So far there are over 2,150 national historic designations based on recommendations from the council.
Jerome said coming back onto the board she feels like she has more wisdom, confidence and has grown over the last 30 years.
“At that time, I wasn’t really outspoken. I wasn’t aware of the historic significance of Canada because I was in my own little bubble here in the [Beaufort] Delta,” said Jerome.
“But now that I’ve reapplied, it’s kind of reopened my eyes to how important this is, this Historic Sites and Monument Board, because I guess just recently they have started to include the Indigenous perspective.”
Years of experience to bring
Jerome said she initially left the board to continue pursuing her education, but when she was told about the opportunity to reapply by a Parks Canada employee and friend, she jumped at the opportunity.
Jerome has held many titles along the way to coming back to being part of the board. She grew up on land speaking the Gwich’in language and practising traditional skills. She spent 12 years in residential school but returned to her family’s bush camp on the Peel River.
She went into the first Experimental Teachers Education Program in the Northwest Territories in 1969, and went back to university to get her Bachelor of Education in 1990 after working with the Language and Cultures Centre in Fort McPherson for seven years.
She then came back to the region to teach, before she moved up to being a principal and eventually the assistant superintendent for the Beaufort Delta Education Council.
She retired in 2006 with the intention of going back on the land trapping and tanning moose hides, “which never happened,” she said. One of her children informed her of the vacancy for Language Commissioner of the N.W.T. She got the job and was in that role from 2009 to 2013.
Since then, she has been teaching on-the-land skills to college students, and has been giving presentations about residential schools to teachers and students across the country and beyond.
She says her mission was to educate Canadians about “the dark chapter” of residential schools as well as to make people aware of “how some of us recovered, and most importantly to make them realize that it’s not an Aboriginal problem, it’s a Canada problem and we need to walk forward and heal together.”
Within this new role, Jerome is hoping she will continue with that education.
“I see myself sitting in meetings and listening, and finding out from the board members if they have touched base with the grassroots people in their provinces [and] in the territories,” said Jerome, “to find out … if there is an Indigenous perspective that has been involved before and during when it comes to the board.”
Indigenous people “have healed,” she said.
“We are on our healing path … and we would like to see more of that Indigenous perspective in anything and everything the national and territorial government is doing.”