Northern Saskatchewan is mourning the loss of Lac La Ronge Indian Band Elder “tracker” Tom Charles who passed away on May 25. Known for his search and rescue work, Charles will be deeply missed by the many lives he has touched.
“Our community and leadership are in mourning after we lost a very respected and admired Elder Tom Charles yesterday. He fought a long hard battle with cancer, and he will be dearly missed by many” Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said.
“His spiritual gifts helped him through 293 search and rescue efforts, only 15 of which went unsolved. Tracker Tom would drop everything he was doing when called upon for any search, in any condition, in any part of the province, whether he knew the person or not.
“That’s who he was. He loved to help everyone, and he brought closure and healing to so many families with his gifts and compassion.”
La Ronge town councillor Jordan McPhail of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band learned about wilderness survival from Charles.
“He was like an encyclopedia of knowledge on the northern lifestyles and ways of survival here. You could tell there was absolutely no guesswork when it came to how to survive in the north. He would tell you how to splint your leg with a branch and how you can use moss and fungus growing on trees to transport fire from one place to another,” McPhail said.
“He could tell you what to look for when you’re travelling along for medicines. He would show you all these natural medicines in the area and what they would do to help cure some ailments. He would show you how to get wild rice and harvest it and cook it — and do all those kinds of things — if you had to live off the land for a week or something if you’re trapped.”
McPhail was also able to connect with his own heritage, culture and family history through that relationship.
“Tom has been there since the beginning and he knows what has worked and what hasn’t. The community is down a legend,” McPhail said.
“The wealth of knowledge that he carried — the teachings of the Indigenous spirit and the Indigenous people lived very well within Tom and the community is definitely one hero short.”
Charles was gifted with a ribbon shirt last February by the Prince Albert Grand Council at the Saskatchewan First Nations Emergency Management Forum in Saskatoon.
“With his strong ties to the land and understanding of the natural world, Tom was dedicated to his work finding our community’s loved ones for more than four decades, as well as playing a key role as our Elder and team leader since the inception of our search, rescue, and recovery team,” Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte said.
“We have many fond memories of our friend, and he will be greatly missed by our team. May the tracks he is now following lead him straight to the heavens.”
Charles also hosted the APTN series, The Other Side in the role of spirit guide for paranormal investigations.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said Charles’ spiritual gifts and knowledge of the lands and waters were well-known among First Nations in Saskatchewan.
“He was often called upon when someone would need rescuing, or a search was being conducted,” Cameron said.
“Even in his last months, battling this illness, he was still participating in searches in his community. He was a very respected elder, a friend to many, and his skills and knowledge will be deeply missed.”
For McPhail, the loss of Elder Tom Charles means the loss of a friend and mentor who made this world a better place.
“Everyone that has ever seen or met Tom knows that they have. Any person that’s crossed his path has been blessed by the Creator to have known him for whether it be five minutes or a lifetime,” McPhail said.
“An amazing man has passed on to spend some time with the creator and share a fresh piece of bannock, some warm tea, and hopefully some moose meat.”