The unsung heroes of public service in the Northwest Territories were honoured last week with awards of excellence from NWT Premier Bob McLeod dedicated to individuals, teams and partnerships showing innovation and engagement in their roles.
Among the top teams recognized was the NWT Wildland Fire Operations team, which spent weeks battling the massive Birch Lake complex along the main transportation artery to the territory’s capital during last year’s record-breaking fire season.
Associate director of forest management Frank Lepine accepted the award along with his fellow managers at the NWT Fire Centre, but dedicated the honour to those with boots on the ground.
“It’s not just for the managers, it’s for all of our staff, everybody from the firefighters to the clerical staff, officers, etc.,” Lepine said. “Obviously we don’t fight fires from an office. Those people on the ground there are the ones who really deserve the recognition.”
Lepine said last year’s fire season was physically and mentally challenging for fire crews, who despite fatigue, managed to protect the highway, transmission lines, nearby communities and other infrastructure.
“We’ve gone through really difficult seasons before, but last season was particularly difficult, because people had to put in mega hours. Our safety concerns were going through the roof because people were working such long days, and the manager, Rick Olsen, had to really clamp down on people and say, ‘Go away, take the weekend off and recuperate.’ It was a real issue last year for us,” Lepine said.
With this fire season shaping up to be as intense as the last, Lepine said the management team is working hard to avoid that kind of fatigue, and said the recognition by the premier is encouraging.
“People can take comfort that whenever there is smoke or some wildfire going that they see, we’re usually already there, we have people on the ground and evaluating the situation, so after a lot of years it is good for us to get some recognition, but it’s also what we do for a living,” Lepine said. “Our culture isn’t designed around heroism; it’s designed around safety.”
Along with the fire team, the GNWT’s ratification team for the Deline final self-government agreement was given recognition, as well as the the Highway 3 Forest Fire Traffic Management team, the Wellness Court implementation team and the project development team for the Mackenzie Valley Fibre-Optic Link.
The partners working on education renewal in the NWT received an award for collaboration, as did the Lutsel K’e Chipewyan dictionary project, a collaboration between the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) and the elders and residents of Lutsel K’e.
SSDEC assistant superintendent Brent Kaulback said he felt privileged to be part of the project and thankful to the premier for recognizing its significance.
“My work with the elders on this project was an incredible experience. They committed fully to the task of documenting and preserving their language and have left behind a lasting legacy. The Lutsel K’e dictionary will last for generations to come,” Kaulback said, noting the poignant timing of the awards with the closure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
“The TRC report commented on how mission schools took away the language and culture of indigenous people but also mentioned that schools today can play a big part in restoring that cultural identity,” he said. “This project is one example how a community and the school can work in partnership to strengthen culture and language.”
Other award winners included Sarah Cook with the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority for the individual category, and Sabrina Broadhead from the department of Health and Social Services, for the Dave Ramsden Career Achievement Award. Peter Vician, deputy minister for Industry, Tourism and Investment, became the first recipient of a new award celebrating excellence in public administration.
Government Service Officers across the NWT were also recognized for their work providing day-to-day services to residents.
“I invite members to join with me in thanking our public service employees for a job well done,” McLeod told the legislature. “Their energy, drive and commitment to implement and achieve our priorities are evident throughout the entire public service and together we have accomplished much.”