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Retired social worker pays tribute to pioneering advocates

Lheidli T'enneh elder Bibiane Francis recalls the impact Bridget Moran and Mary John had on her life and work.
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Lheidli T'enneh elder Bibiane Francis talks about how she was inspired by Bridget Moran and Mary John in her social work career and advocacy in community.

She almost never goes downtown anymore but on a sunny Tuesday afternoon Bibiane Francis thought it might be worth the trip.

It was just a happy accident that she was walking down Third Avenue nearing the corner of Quebec Street where the Bridget Moran statue sits on a bench, a symbol of unending advocacy and a constant reminder that one social worker can make a big difference.

It’s Social Work Week and at the site of the statue stood Mayor Simon Yu addressing the small crowd gathered before him. Yu made the Social Work Week proclamation and he said a few words of appreciation for all that social workers do in the City of Prince George and Bibiane listened.

Then social worker Charles Fraser recited the poem he had written for his friend and mentor Bridget Moran, whom he had met at the College of New Caledonia when he switched careers at 40 years old so he could make a difference in the community he loved. Moran was his mentor and his friend and he admired her strong voice demanding more services for those in need and Bibiane listened.

Others spoke, acknowledging the BC Social Worker of the Year, Heather Lamb, for all her hard work advocating for the disabled and Bibiane listened.

The ceremony ended with a travel-mug toast to the social workers in the community and Bibiane listened.

And as people milled about, enjoying the extraordinary warmth of the sunshine, Bibiane, Lheidli T’enneh Elder and retired social worker, sought out Fraser because she was so moved by his tribute poem to Bridget Moran.

And then for the first time Bibiane spoke.

“As an Indigenous person I need to stand up more,” Bibiane said. “I need to get out and advocate more.”

Bibiane never knew her culture, she said, because when your mother goes to residential school, language, identity and traditions disappear.

“We were so lost,” Bibiane said.

She felt a deep connection to Mary John, who was an advocate whose dedicated community service focused on language and cultural revitalization. To Bibiane, Moran and John were synonymous as they were advocates for those in need. Learning about her culture, traditions, language and history showed Bibiane the way forward to heal from her intergenerational trauma was through her chosen career of advocacy.

Bibiane took the social services worker program at the College of New Caledonia and was the first recipient of the Mary John Award of Excellence in 2006 for her advocacy work in community to honour her culture while mentoring others and furthering her deep connection to John and Moran.

So on that sunny Tuesday afternoon, Bibiane spoke about how moving the poem was, what an inspiration John has been to her and how much of an impact Moran and her storied history of speaking up for those in need has meant to her.

“I spent 13 years working in a transition house because I wanted to make a difference and I know I did that because the women would always come to me to say thank you for caring,” Bibiane said. “All I did was listen. They need to be heard.”

Bibiane then turned to the Moran statue.

“You know, every time I walk by this bench I say ‘thank you, Bridget, thank you for being there and supporting people alongside Mary John’.”

And as Bibiane made her way to the bench, over the ice and snow, sinking down beside her, Bibiane gratefully smiled at Bridget’s beloved face and quietly said, “thank you, Bridget.”

And very softly and thoughtfully and carefully placed her warm hand upon the book in the hand of the statue that represents so much to her and her people, because during her impactful social work career she heard so much and Bibiane listened.

 

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