Muriel Betsina, Yellowknives Dene elder dies

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Muriel Betsina, a longtime resident of Ndilo and celebrated elder of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), has died.

Yellowknives dene elder Muriel Betsina shares the history of Giant Mine and colonization in 2018. Betsina was remembered this week as a resident of Ndilo, knowledge-keeper about Giant Mine’s toxic legacy, a residential school survivor and strong advocate for Indigenous rights in the North. NNSL file photo

Betsina was outspoken throughout her life as a survivor of eight years of residential school in Fort Resolution and from her experience living adjacent to Giant Mine during its years of gold extraction.

Muriel was born on May 25, 1944 in Tulita. Her siblings were George Blondin, the late Canadian author, two younger sisters  – Be’sha Blondin and Alice Blondin, and brother Joe Blondin.

For most of her life, however, she lived in Ndilo after securing a job at Con Mine as a cook in the early 1960s.

In the early sixties, she met and married Frank Betsina, an electrician in Yellowknife.

Erica Abel, biological grand-daughter and adopted daughter of Frank and Muriel, remembered Muriel this week for the many contributions to family and community. What perhaps stands out most, though, was her temperament as an open, kind and forgiving person.

“Her overwhelming kindness and the fact the she was always very non-judgemental,” Erica said when asked what she is remembering most this week about her granny. “No matter what you did she was always forgiving. She always had her arms open and she embraced you, no matter what. She loved you for everything – for your perfections and imperfections.”

Erica agreed that Muriel was often in the public eye for causes that involved the health of her community including in the importance of sharing stories of the toxic legacy of Giant Mine, the devastating impacts from residential schools, and the importance of preserving the cultural legacy of Northern Dene.

“She had a voice for everything that involved our people, especially if it involved the future generations,” she said. “The languages, the culture, the environment.”

This often translated in being a member of many advisory boards over the years, especially with the YKDFN and her close work with the Kalemi Dene School.

Among the important lessons Erica picked up from Muriel’s life was the notion of forgiveness. This was in particular true as Muriel shared her experience of attending residential school in Fort Resolution for eight years during her youth with the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“She had her stories, but one thing she always talked about was the importance of forgiving and that is how it carried into a healthier life (for her),” said Erica.
“Sadly for many people, it has been hard for them and they end up being stuck in a dependent cycle. With the trauma and things she experienced, she kind of learned to forgive and that helped her to heal from what happened.
“She was outspoken for residential school and wanted her story told. She was eager to tell her story and that is how she healed.”

Muriel is survived by a large and extended family, many of whom got to share last moments with her at Stanton Territorial Hospital. These include seven children by her and late husband Frank – Ernest, Eileen, Norman, Dianne, Allan, George, and Frank Jr.

Erica said she estimated there are also approximately 40 biological and adopted grandchildren and more than 10 great-grandchildren. As a result, the family was grateful to the hospital for accommodating many close to her in the new building during her last moments, she said.

Condolences began pouring in on Monday from many well-known Northerners and organizers.

“My elder Muriel Betsina has passed today. I got to hold her hand, say Mahsi for all she did and kissed her. Mahsi Muriel,” stated Maggie Mercredi, Indigenous relations adviser with the City of Yellowknife.

Musician Leela Gilday stated she had known Betsina since she was a baby.

“She was truly a beautiful and wise elder with kindness and gentleness in her every word.”

The YKDFN stated that Muriel’s greatest joy was her children and that she will be sadly missed by many in the community.

“Muriel will be missed beyond measure and the family is grieving their loss,” the government organization stated.  “The public will be invited to a wake and the funeral to be announced later this week.”

A special Go Fund Me page has been created by the family to support a celebration of life. People can also drop of donations at the band office.

A visitation is scheduled to be held at McKenna Funeral Home on Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A funeral will be held at St. Patrick Catholic Church on Friday at 1 p.m.