A woman of action who works in the field of childcare, Suzanne is a leader in the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci who has lived a surprisingly varied life marked by numerous achievements. Born in La Tuque in April 1969, she grew up in a family with seven children, raised by a doting grandmother. In 1982, she left her indigenous village to begin high school studies in Shawinigan-Sud, where she stayed with a host family. At the age of 16, she returned to live with her ill grandmother, for whom she felt tremendous admiration.
Raised in a tough environment where there were many boys, she recalls her grandmother as strict, disciplined and deeply committed to her Christian faith. “Even if our relationship was difficult at times, she gave me a sense of determination and engagement,” says Suzanne, who has great respect for the various religious beliefs in our society and who has taken part in healing activities specific to indigenous spirituality. She’s involved in rain dance rituals and dancing to heal her Atikamekw brothers and sisters.
While she was looking after her nieces and nephews in her late teens and early adulthood, the project of establishing a daycare in the Wemotaci community began in 1996. From 1996 to 1998, she did her college studies in La Tuque. After helping out with the daycare’s construction, she had a position there when it opened in 1999, while working as an auxiliary constable at the same time. In 2000, she began her training as a police officer, which led to a full-time position.
After devoting herself to public safety in her community for nine years, she left her job in 2009. “It’s a tough life when you have to be available on call 24/7 and you’re dealing with misery, suicide and domestic violence.” However, she acknowledges that her efforts to listen to others and engage them in dialogue, her fearlessness and her support for society’s most disadvantaged people were appreciated by many.
In 2010, she became managing director of a Centre de la Petite Enfance (CPE). “The responsibilities of the position are numerous and demanding,” she admits. They include administration, communicating with parents and even replacing educators when they’re absent.
It was during this period that she gave birth to two children and adopted two Atikamekw children with her partner, who is from Morocco. “My love for children and my values were at the heart of my actions,” she says.
In order to help families cope with difficulties such as social isolation and socio-economic problems, it was vital to obtain financial support for CPEs in three Atikamekw communities. This was made possible thanks to the help of the provincial and federal governments and the participation of a foundation—Je Marche Vers Mon Avenir (“I’m Walking Toward My Future”)—created by Suzanne and two co-founders in November 2018, for which they deserve great credit.
The many years Suzanne has spent fighting for social justice are based on a vision and principles revolving around community well-being. For this leader, passing on values is essential, as are discipline, engagement, support for parents and combating suicide and addiction. She views her contribution to community life as a concrete expression of the values she learned from her family and Atikamekw culture: resilience, social justice, equality across generations, sharing and mutual aid.
At the end of the interview, we discussed the future of youth and what advice to give them about life. Suzanne told me that her daughter Ghalia, aged 13, is surprisingly already concerned about how to preserve biodiversity and fight deforestation and climate change for the future of the planet. Today’s determined youth are demanding that people change their relationship with nature and our planet’s resources—what more could you ask for?