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Helping a community learn and grow : Alexandra Thomas

Tl’azt’en Nation’s cultural coordinator talks about her journey back home
Alexandra Thomas. (Taylor Hansen photo)

Alexandra Thomas serves as the Cultural Coordinator for the Tl’azt’en Nation. She is renowned for her diverse skills and teaching prowess, notably her association with Utsoo Ooyoh, affectionately known as Grandma’s House.

As the youngest of nine siblings, Thomas left her hometown at 16, relocating to Vancouver before returning to her community at the age of 20.

Initially adrift, she eventually found her calling teaching traditional moosehide work, a skill passed down by her grandmother.

This journey led her to work at the Nakazdli culture house and later at Nakalbun, where she felt a profound sense of purpose and empowerment.

Her passion for preserving cultural heritage led her to apply for a language coordinator position, though her extensive skill set surpassed the role’s requirements.

In the application she put down all that she knew: hunting, trapping, how to skin animals, pick medicines and berries.

“My resume for this job was really cool actually, ” she beams. She didn’t hear back from the band for a long time, but she remembers that listing all these skills made her realize that this is what she exactly wants to do moving ahead.

Recognizing her invaluable knowledge, the band created a new role for her as the cultural coordinator for the Tl’azt’en Nation.

“So they made a position for me as the cultural coordinator for Tl’azt’en Nation, and I started March 8 2021, which is International Women’s Day, which I find amazing.”

In this capacity, she organised classes on beadwork and drum making, securing substantial grants totaling $762,000 for the construction of the Tl’azt’en cultural building, Grandma’s House, a location deeply meaningful to Thomas as it stands on the former site of a residential day school.

“We came to the site and we smudged the grounds to bless it, purify it, let go of all the bad negative energies that were created here… and I did a lot of crying that day because for me it was really emotional. I know a lot of our people suffered a lot through residential schools.”

Despite past trauma associated with her hometown, Thomas has undergone a transformative journey of healing, finding fulfillment in nurturing her community’s growth.

“I have the best job in the world. I couldn’t be happier with what I do. We have a whole new cultural building here,we have just purchased 10 canoes, 10 kayaks so that we can take our kids out on the land, I’ve got all the trapping gear, I was hand making T shirts for community members…” she lists all the exciting bits.

She spearheads cultural camps for Tl’azt’en youth, imparting skills in beadwork, drum making, and other traditional crafts, while also advocating for awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) across Canada.

“I don’t care where you were from. If you’re all the way from the other side of East Canada and you’ve gone missing we care,” she says.

Reflecting on Fort St. James, Thomas praises the community’s warmth and solidarity.

“Everybody is nice here, they treat you kindly, this is a great community… If you tell them you are new in town, they will take you out and show you the land.”

About the Author: Binny Paul

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