For her 20 years of service with the francophone community of Fort Smith, Marie-Christine Aubrey was honoured with the territorial francophone federation’s most prestigious award last weekend in Yellowknife.
Handed out once a year at the annual general assembly of the NWT Francophone Federation, the Prix Jeanne-Dubé salutes the work and perseverance of one individual who has pursued development of the francophone community in the Northwest Territories.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” said Aubrey, who volunteers as president of the Fort Smith Francophone Association. “I heard the (federation) president talking and I said, ‘He’s talking about me! Are you sure?’”
Aubrey, a native of France, first became involved with the association in 1991. Over the following 20 years, she helped champion many developments in French language and culture in the community, including the eventual implementation of a French immersion program at JBT Elementary School.
“When I started with the association, it was very still,” she said. “There was not a lot of movement. So with the group of ladies I revamped the organization and installed many different programs.”
From offering weekend and after-school French language programs for youth to organizing concerts and cultural events for the whole community, Aubrey said she dedicated a lot of time to introducing her language and culture to the rest of the community.
“With all those years of hard work to exchange our culture with the community, it’s nice,” she said. “Thanks to that we have French immersion today.”
Aubrey said the relationship between the association and the community has been one of acceptance.
“We have always had a wonderful response from the community,” she said. “We’ve always had an open door. Some organizations are very strict, but not me. We are open to francophones, francophiles and the friends of francophiles. It’s open to everybody.”
The award’s namesake, Jeanne Dubé, was one of the first francophones to come to Fort Smith in the 1960s. Aubrey said Dubé helped found the first francophone association and was very involved in the community.
“She was an amazing lady and was very talented in the culinary department,” said Aubrey. “I don’t know what she could not cook.”
Aubrey continues to serve on the board of the NWT Francophone Federation and the National Federation of Francophone Seniors, along with her duties as president of the Fort Smith association. She said the hard work she has done to promote French language and culture has been very rewarding.
“It’s very important to share your culture so people can understand where you’re from,” she said, noting the importance of Aboriginal languages and cultures as well. “It’s very important that we continue to open the door to everyone. That’s why we’ve been so successful. We are all from different places.”