The Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle Corporation presented Prince Albert resident Julie Pitzel and five other women with the award during a special ceremony held last Friday at the Central Urban Métis Federation building in Saskatoon.
“It was really amazing,” Pitzel recalled. “There were about five other women there, and the calibre of the women that were nominated was really wonderful.
“I was glad to be among them because I know that some of the work that they did was very worthwhile … and I had some of my family members there, so it made it really extra-special.”
Angie Bear, a community development worker with the Iskwew program at the Co-operative Health Centre, and Dr. Chad Nilson of Catholic Family Services nominated Pitzel for the award.
The Elder was first alerted to her nomination through an unexpected phone call from Judy Hughes, president of the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle.
“Judy Hughes … phoned me about a couple weeks ago and told me that she has some good news for me,” Pitzel recalled. “And of course I said, ‘Ohhh,’ and I thought maybe she needed someone to talk at a meeting or something like that.
“Then she said that I had been nominated by Angie Bear and … Dr. Chad Nilson, for this award. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Oh my goodness.’ And I had to sit down because I couldn’t believe that I got it.”
Explaining her choice, Bear ran through a long list of Pitzel’s accomplishments in and around Prince Albert.
For decades, Pitzel has been one of the community’s most tireless volunteers.
“I nominated Julie because through the years, she’s worked as an Elder for different programs that I’ve done, and she’s always been a really good support,” Bear said.
“She used to work with Victim Services at the city police as an Aboriginal liaison officer. So I worked with her quite a bit with different people, and I always found her to be a very caring person, a very dynamic person who … was on the committee that started the very first women’s shelter in Prince Albert.
“She’s always been a person who has done a lot of community development on a large scale and on a very small scale, as well being supportive to women … She’s somebody that I really admire for her work ethic and the things that she does in the community.”
An active member of Métis Local 269, Pitzel is a committee member for Community Against Family Violence and recently accepted a position as a board member with Eagle’s Nest, a group home program that works with at-risk youth.
Pitzel was a recipient with the group first recognized by the Women of the Dawn in Regina -- now known as the Indigenous Awards – for her role in promoting Aboriginal education and awareness. In 2005, she received the Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan.
I made a commitment to live in Prince Albert and raise my family here, and as my part of living here in this community, I volunteer so that I can help make it a good place for people to live. - Julie Pitzel
With her proficiency in the Cree, Dene, Michif and English languages, Pitzel is regularly asked to assist others who work with Aboriginal communities.
Her knack for bringing together different groups to pursue common goals was another factor in her official recognition.
“She works a lot in that capacity where she tries to bridge organizations, and I think that’s one of the really powerful things … about her is that she knows everybody in almost every sector,” Bear said.
“With what she does, she always says, ‘Oh, this person is doing this, you should work with this person, and do this kind of program,’ and she just kind of initiates things on that level where she just gets people going in that direction.
“She may not get the credit for what that program has been doing or how it’s developed, but she’s always … getting things going and pushing people along in the areas that they need to work in.”
Despite some health issues in recent years, Pitzel is still going strong at 75. Her future plans include teaching programs at SIAST and sharing traditional teachings with the community of Lac La Biche, Alta.
Considering the broader context of her Diamond Jubilee medal, Pitzel directed attention back towards the community she has worked so hard to help throughout her life.
“I think we have to keep in the forefront the reasons why we do all these things within our communities,” she said.
“We want it to be a safe place for our children to grow up in, and that is important for us to continue to support organizations that promote healthy living, and that we deal with things like poverty, homelessness, domestic violence and racism within our community -- that we continue to do all these things so that we have a good place to live.
Appealing to city residents, she continued, “I made a commitment to live in Prince Albert and raise my family here, and as my part of living here in this community, I volunteer so that I can help make it a good place for people to live. So I encourage people wherever they can help to help out, because we do need volunteers in our community and that’s the way that we get to have it healthy -- by the people contributing their time.”