At First Nations House in Toronto, June 16, 2017. From front left: Brittany Hubble presenting gift to Jackie Esquimaux-Hamlin.  Back: Tracy Jacko, Shannon Simpson, Jennifer Wesley, Julie Ann Shepard.

By Barb Nahwegahbow

TORONTO—First Nations House (FNH) at the University of Toronto bid a happy retirement to a much-loved and respected team member. Students, friends, colleagues and family gathered at FNH on June 16 for a retirement party for Jackie Esquimaux-Hamlin, a citizen of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation.

For almost 18 years, students and staff could count on Esquimaux-Hamlin’s reassuring presence in the FNH resource centre. She was hired as the librarian shortly after graduating from U of T as a mature student.

U of T Elder Grafton Antone celebrated Esquimaux-Hamlin in his opening prayer.

“Jackie was a beautiful influence on a lot of people…and I give thanksgiving for her contributions to many lives here,” he said. “Jackie had much to do with creating the beautiful space that is FNH.”

“For 17 years, I got to work with this amazing person…she was someone who was really approachable. The people who were coming in and out of the library, they weren’t there to talk about books,” stated Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, the former Director of Aboriginal Student Services at FNH. “They were there to talk about life, to talk about stories…Jackie wasn’t just going to talk about what you were looking for, she was interested in knowing who you were.”

For Hamilton-Diabo and for many of the other speakers, Esquimaux-Hamlin encompassed what FNH is all about – a place of community and a place of family.

“We’ve had people bragging about us in India and throughout the world because of Jackie,” continued Hamilton-Diabo. “She touched so many lives along the way…we are blessed for that period of time that she shared with us.”

“You were the FNH mother,” expressed James Bird, a Master’s student in architectural studies, to Esquimaux-Hamlin in his remarks.

He spoke about how she had helped him come to terms with his residential school history.

“Many difficult times have been worked through in your office,” he continued. “You were more than a librarian and you are loved and will be deeply missed. You have touched so many lives.”

“Obviously it will be impossible to replace her but we will do our best,” said Shannon Simpson, Acting Director of Aboriginal Student Services at FNH. “Jackie will always be part of the house here.”

Following the speeches, students and staff presented Jackie with gifts that included a dance shawl in her colours and decorated with images of her clan, the deer.

In an interview, Esquimaux-Hamlin said she felt overwhelmed by all the tributes.

“I was just doing what I had to do, what I enjoyed,” she humbly remarked.

“Taking care of me is a priority,” she continued. “And spending time with my family, my grandkids and doing things at my own pace.”

Esquimaux-Hamlin is planning a trip to Australia with her 14-year old grandson.

“But I will still be involved in the community in any way I can, but in a volunteer capacity.”