‘She is my hero:’ Banquet celebrates 2019 Citizen of the Year

2019 recipient Janet Carriere speaks at the Citizen of the Year banquet at the Prince Albert Inn on Jan. 25, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

“The greatest power that you carry in this community is the power of influence.” – Janet Carriere

Janet Carriere has experienced marginalization. It’s one of the many reasons that she’ll stand behind a podium, like on Saturday night, and tell a crowd to question their judgments.

“As a child I never knew that there were different races or statuses amongst people,” she said, thanking her family for her upbringing.

When she ventured out of the tiny hamlet of Crutwell and into Red Wing School, just north of Prince Albert, she felt the “ugly sting” of prejudice.

“I didn’t understand how I could be less than other people just because of the community that I came from,” said Carriere.

“That taught me that I didn’t want anyone else to have to feel less.”

The executive director of the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre—only one of her many roles—attended the Citizen of the Year banquet proudly sporting her purple ribbon skirt and moccasins. A bright purple shawl draped around her shoulders over a lacy blue shirt.

She sat at the head table listening to several speeches thanking her for her openness to Prince Albert’s vulnerable sector: people facing homelessness, addictions and mental health issues.

Carriere smiled humbly. Her own speech put to action all of the qualities guests said they admired.

“The reason I do what I do…is to try and create a community that is equal for everyone—A place where people are judged for who they are, not for the colour of their skin or the struggles they are having in life,” she said.

Her passion for creating an equal community has become an “obsession.”

Carriere said she often hears people saying “Indigenous people need to fix their problems.” She said when you educate yourself on the history of Canada’s Indigenous people, you’ll see it wasn’t them who created the issues they’re facing.

“We all need to learn the history of the Indigenous people in Canada and if you need help with that, give me a call,” she said with a laugh.

Aside from learning the history, Carriere emphasized the importance of recognizing when you have “white privilege,” and pointing it out when you see it.

It’s not about being rich or famous, she explained, but in everyday occurrences like being helped first in a store if an Indigenous person was there before you.

“If we don’t speak up for those that are obviously Indigenous, they’ll try to speak up for themselves, but it’s just another Indian crying. The colour of their skin is so loud that it can’t be heard,” she said.

“The greatest power that you carry in this community is the power of influence. People listen to you and actually hear what you have to say, and so I challenge you from this day forward to be the ambassadors of change.”

Out of several people she thanked, including her husband, other family members and coworkers, Carriere first thanked the Creator.

“My life is easy. I don’t need to think about what I’m going to do next or where I’m going to go. I just put one foot down in front of the other and the Creator takes me to where I need to be.”

The Citizen of the Year award is presented annually by the Kinsmen Club and the Daily Herald. Carriere became the 62nd recipient in 2019 after being nominated by her coworker Georgette Arcand.

“Janet will jump into any endeavour with full force,” said Arcand in her speech. “She is very humble and treats everyone with dignity and respect.”

“She is my hero.”

Aside from her full-time commitments at the Friendship Centre, Carriere sits on the Prince Albert Board of Police Commissioners, the Community Advisory Board for Homelessness, the Native Coordinating Council and Prince Albert Community Housing.

She’s also the president of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, a member of the Prince Albert Indigenous Coalition, an advisor for the Commemorative Day for Missing and Murdered Women with the Women’s Commission and a member of the Inbuilt 93 – Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies.

For deputy police Chief Jason Stonechild, Carriere is a “say it like it needs to be said type of person.”

He spoke about the Friendship Centre hosting community dinners for homeless people needing a warm meal. Stonechild and Chief Jon Bergen often attend.

“We have seen individuals who we know to be gang members and who can be dangerous walking in when they’re drunk,” he explained.

“In comes Janet, full fury, and she goes up to them. She’ll go right up to their face and she goes ‘Don’t bring that attitude…You’ve got to respect the people around you.’”

Stonechild said even he—a 27-year police officer—wouldn’t feel comfortable confronting these people without his gun on his hip.

But Carriere “doesn’t back down” when it comes to those difficult topics. She’ll happily open the door for you no matter what barriers stand in your way, Stonechild said.

This was a common theme in the speeches throughout the night, including George Sayese’s presentation. He’s on the board of directors for the Friendship Centre.

He first met Carriere in 1999. He laughed, saying he had to text her for the year to include in his speech.

“She’s not an ordinary employee. She’s a person that’ll go above and beyond for the homeless and also for…anyone that comes through her life that has a barrier,” he added.

“She has blossomed in front of me at what she does.”

Janet Carriere gives Prince Albert Indian and Métis Friendship Centre board member George Sayese a hug after his speech at the Citizen of the Year banquet on Jan. 25, 2020. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Other speakers included Mayor Greg Dionne, Carriere’s niece Megan Walsh, the Indigenous Coalition Engagement’s Lenore Swystun, Prince Albert Daily Herald Editor Peter Lozinski and Prince Albert Kinsmen Club President Jon Fraser.

Sheryl Kimbley, a past Citizen of the Year recipient, was the master of ceremonies. Ray Villebrun played several songs, including ‘Drums,’ a song Carriere said keeps her grounded.

Bear Child Singers from Won Ska Cultural School drummed as the head table entered, followed by a blessing from Elder Gloria Ledoux.