Indigenous History Month Feature – Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
As we celebrate Indigenous History Month, we pay tribute to the remarkable life and legacy of Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton. Margaret was an Inuvialuk woman whose impact on Canadian history cannot be overstated. Through her books, crafts, and public speaking engagements, she left an indelible mark on our nation’s cultural landscape.
Margaret’s literary accomplishments include four award-winning children’s books, including the bestselling “FATTY LEGS.” However, her talents extended far beyond writing. She was also celebrated for her traditional handmade Inuit crafts, showcasing her exceptional skill and cultural heritage. On most Saturdays, you could find Margaret at the local farmers’ market in Fort St. John, sharing her crafts and captivating stories with visitors. Additionally, she embarked on tours across Canada and beyond, ensuring that her stories reached as many people as possible.
What makes Margaret’s journey even more significant is her role as one of the first residential school survivors to share her experiences courageously. She began openly recounting her time in a residential school with great bravery and determination, specifically targeting young audiences. By doing so, she played a pivotal role in raising awareness about the injustices suffered by Indigenous communities, promoting understanding and reconciliation.
Born on Baille Island/Utkraluk in the Arctic Ocean, Margaret’s early years were spent in Sachs Harbour. As an Inuvialuk child, her life revolved around hunting trips by dogsled and treacherous voyages across the Arctic Ocean aboard the North Star schooner to procure essential supplies. At the age of eight, she decided to attend the Catholic residential school in Aklavik, a fur trading settlement founded by her great-grandfather. Despite the notorious reputation of residential schools, Margaret was determined to acquire the skill she coveted above all else: reading.
Afterward, Margaret settled in Tuktoyaktuk with her family. There, she encountered her future husband, Lyle, who worked on the DEW Line project. Following Lyle’s employment opportunity, Margaret journeyed to Fort St. John, facing a new way of life. Despite never seeing a horse before, she adapted quickly to her role as a cowgirl and ranch wife, even participating in barrel racing at rodeos. She raised a beautiful family of eight children with Lyle, leaving an enduring legacy of love and resilience.
Sadly, Margaret passed away in 2021 at the age of 84, leaving behind a profound impact on the world around her. As we reflect on Indigenous History Month, let us commemorate Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton as a trailblazer and an inspiration to future generations. Her unwavering commitment to sharing her story, promoting education, and preserving Indigenous culture provides hope for a more inclusive and understanding society.
Join us as we celebrate Indigenous History Month, honouring the legacies of remarkable individuals like Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton. Let’s foster appreciation, understanding, and respect for Indigenous cultures and histories.