‘Advocate for the underdog:’ Life, work and legacy of Sandra Lockhart remembered

Lockhart remembered for her tireless advocacy work on Indigenous rights issues

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Among an outpouring of tributes and condolences following the recent death of Sandra Lockhart, a dedicated advocate for Indigenous rights in the North and across Canada, many messages shared a common theme: she was boundlessly passionate about making a difference.

Originally from Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan, Lockhart later moved to Lutsel K’e. She was married to former Lutsel K’e chief Felix Lockhart.

She then relocated to Yellowknife.

In both communities, she left an enduring impact, and touched the lives of many.

Jack Bourassa, regional executive vice-president at the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North, was one of them.

The pair first met in 2009, when Lockhart joined PSAC North’s Indigenous People’s Committee, a branch of the union that works to educate, empower and unite Indigenous members to take action on human rights issues. There, Lockhart became a committed champion of Indigenous rights in the workforce.

“She was a very determined, dogged individual,” recalled Bourassa in an interview with Yellowknifer, adding there aren’t enough words to “adequately sum up how I feel about her.”

Bourassa said Lockhart was “very passionate” about Indigenous rights, particularly issues faced by Indigenous women, calling it the “central focus of her passion.”

But, Bourassa said, her advocacy work didn’t stop at championing Indigenous rights.

“Her thing was about fair – what’s really fair? So there were a lot of people who weren’t getting a fair shake and she worked on campaigns related to racially visible people, the Pride community, and access issues,” said Bourassa.

“She was just an advocate for the underdog,” he said.

At a community discussion held in Ndilo in 2013, following Idle No More protests, Lockhart was there, joining the talk on protecting land and water from resource extraction.

At a vigil for Mariella Lennie in 2012, Lockhart was there, joining a chorus of growing calls demanding an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The same year, Lockhart, who worked as an Aboriginal wellness co-ordinator at Stanton Territorial Health Authority, brought Northern health concerns to Ottawa, alongside community advocate Arlene Hache.

“The North will miss her! Canada and the world will miss her! Her sphere of influence was huge and impactful,” wrote Hache in a public Facebook post.

Last year, at a Yellowknife rally protesting the acquittal of a white farmer from Saskatchewan who shot and killed Colten Boushie, a young Indigenous man, Lockhart was there, again using her voice to spur change.

But it was a voice she didn’t always have. Lockhart, a survivor of severe abuse who once lived on the streets in the throes of addiction, told CBC North in 2015 she had to find her own way of looking at the world after being told how to think and live for years by agents of colonialism.

Years after pushing for an inquiry, Lockhart used her voice to tell her own story of trauma and resilience at a hearing held in Yellowknife last year.

Beyond Sandra the advocate, Jack Bourassa has found memories of what Lockhart was like as a person, including her notoriously bright smile.

“As soon as she walked into a room she commanded people’s attention. People knew she was there,” he said.

“Sandra is legendary, she will not soon be forgotten,” added Bourassa.

“If I could only say one thing, it would Mahsi Cho.”

A visitation for Lockhart was held in Yellowknife on Thursday.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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