Brenda Gauthier

Language Revitalization in the North: Brenda Gauthier Takes on a New Challenge Once More

“I'm hoping that I can bring changes where we see more improvement in language revitalization and also language service. We can spend all the time we want learning a language, but if we don't hear it in our service providers, then it becomes a problem. That's what I'm really hoping that I start to see in my term,” Brenda Gauthier, Languages Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, asserts.

She lives in Fort Smith and is originally from Fort Providence. Before she was married, she was known as Brenda McLeod. A survivor of two residential schools, she’s always lived in the Northwest Territories and is a member of the Deh Gáh Got’įę First Nation. She has worked in government for over 30 year in a wide range of positions.

Her career started out when she was a community social worker in Fort Providence. Next, she was a student counselor at Aurora College and later a probation or parole officer, then the warden of the Territorial Women's Correctional Center. The facility merged into the Fort Smith Correctional Complex under the leadership of a single warden. She moved to Yellowknife to work as a director of Human Resource Management next.

From there, she became an Intergovernmental relations analyst, then Special Adviser to the Minister responsible for the Status of Women and later Chief Operating Officer for the Fort Smith region of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority. She has a big vision for her new work in the Language Commissioner’s Office. It wasn’t a role she plannedto take on, but she did with the encouragement of her husband and friends. “I’m enjoying it, it’s a very rewarding career,” she adds.

Making a change didn’t always come easily. “A majority of my career was in the Corrections field. At some point, you need to do something different. When you work in one career for as long as I did… sometimes it's hard to get out of that into a different field,” she shares. After applying unsuccessfully on many jobs, she was feeling discouraged. An unexpected phone call from someone supportive renewed Gauthier’s confidence and helped her look at things from a different perspective and with new motivation.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Motivation was something she lacked when she was first a student in school. She graduated from high school and didn’t feel inspired to do more. Given the lack of employment opportunities in her home town, she went back to school because there wasn’t anything else to do. She got a diploma in social work, then one in management studies, and while she resolved not to go further, she ended up going back again.

Gauthier got her Bachelor of Social Work online while working full tiem during the day. Her husband knew that was not the end, as much as she said it would be. He bought her a laptop for Christmas because he was sure she would continue onto a master’s degree (which she did!). To this day, she’s still looking for learning opportunities, a lifelong learner out of interest.

Her advice for Indigenous youth considering leaving home to get an education is to focus on how short an academic year is, with only eight months to get through. Looking back on the first year, time really flies and doesn’t take as much sacrifice as anticipated in retrospect. She encourages youth to stay on top of their studies because catching up can be tough and to socialize after homework is done.

The other thing Gauthier suggests is staying in touch with home through technology and remembering the world is actually pretty small. Being away creates new opportunities to make friends and learn new things. Reaching out to staff for support is another recommendation she has. They want you to succeed, she explains. Finally, she suggests to surround yourself with people and things that make you happy.

Reflecting on the barriers she’s overcome in her life to get to where she is, Gauthier shares that she was a special needs student who needed one on oe support as a young child. Her struggles with comprehension held her back from initially enthusiastically pursuing higher education. “I realized when I was young that I didn't learn the same way that everyone else learned. I had to find a way that worked for me. I knew that I needed to take a little more time to read and to understand things,” she recalls. Relying on memorization, she got though her education. As she got older, she lost her extra support, which made things more difficult, but she found a way that led her all the way up to the Language Commissioner’s office.

She longs to see transformation in her term as Languages Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and she’s doing what she can to make it happen. Brenda Gauthier knows we can spend all the time we want learning a language, but if we don't hear it in our service providers, then it becomes a problem. Drawing on three decades of government experience, she’s taken the next step in a memorable career in hopes that languages will not be forgotten.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    August 16, 2023
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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