Last week the community said goodbye to long-time Queen Charlotte resident Katie Borserio. Her memorial service was held in Skidegate on Monday. According to speakers at the service, Katie died as she intended — at home, with family and surrounded by love. This love extended far beyond her immediate family. To me, a relative newcomer to Haida Gwaii, the love of Katie extends to every part of the islands and her life is a testament to the power of goodness. As members of a small and tightly connected community, we each have critical roles to play in shaping the values and future of our community.
Even though I only met Katie once, her love certainly extended to me. And while I did not have the chance to get to know her on a personal level, I feel that I know some of her from the amazing legacy she has provided as a teacher at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay (I arrived after she had already left her position at the school). I also know her from her many other roles in the community that I now call home. Every member of any community creates and sustains the culture of that community. We do this as much in our daily interactions as we do through big initiatives. A community that gossips, shuns, shuts out, and does not share is because of how individual people act toward one another. So too is the community that builds up, welcomes, includes and supports.
Listening to Katie’s memorial speeches last week, including speeches from Hereditary Chiefs, elected community leaders, co-workers, friends, doctors and family, I realized how much I am indebted to Katie. This community is what drew me to live here, and she was one of the many people whose lives have created, sustained and passed on the community in its present form. This community is why I love my job as a public-school teacher. It is also what I hope will keep me here for years to come. I expect that most readers know Katie better than I do, so I won’t pretend to know more than you. But I would like to share with you why I am deeply inspired by her work and why I am grateful to her for helping create a wonderful, loving, connected, creative, alive and unique place.
Here is what I’ve learned about Katie from her legacy alone. First, she was an artist who loved teaching teenagers about art. She built an arts program that others look up to, inspiring not only her students but also the community of professionals with whom she worked. I often hear how inspiring she was. I hear this from other teachers who look up to her as an exemplar of good teaching. These are teachers whose own work I look up to, because it is grounded in critical thinking, student engagement, respectful relationships and engaged creativity. That they look up to Katie as a role model means a lot to me. But even more inspiring than what other teachers say is what her former students have said to me about Katie. Former students tell me that she respected them. Cared for them. Challenged and inspired, always. And shared her gifts freely and passionately. In my work at the school now I feel many echoes of her work, echoes that continue to reverberate throughout the school.
Life is lived out in a continual series of small details. We are not only connected to each other but we depend upon one another for every aspect of the human experience. I moved to Haida Gwaii because I wanted to teach in a living, growing, thriving, connected, loving and joyful community that cared for the people within it. Thank you, Katie, for the legacy of your work and for inspiring so many of my students, colleagues, friends and neighbours.