Haomik Joy lost her parents when she was only six years old, but she remained surrounded by caring people. She has since become the caring person who brings comfort to others.
A volunteer with numerous organizations and many events in her hometown of Cambridge Bay, Joy’s continuing commitment to her community has not gone unnoticed. She will receive a Canada 150 “Unsung Hero” medal from Senator Dennis Patterson during the Kitikmeot Trade Show, Feb. 12-14.
Joy, who’s better known to some people in her community as Bessie, said she doesn’t feel deserving of the medal, and insisted that her husband, J.R. Ings, is her partner in everything she does.
“We do all these things together. I want to share it with my husband,” she said of the accolades.
She finds it particularly pleasing to help elders by preparing and serving them traditional foods, cutting their hair and trimming the men’s moustaches and beards.
“They’re so grateful, the elders. It makes them feel good,” she said. “The thank yous and the hugs – as soon as you walk in, their faces sort of light up. It’s nice to see.”
When she reflects on her life, she is overtaken with emotion as she describes how her aunts and uncles – David Ohokannoak and Molly Hitgolok as well as Uncle Frank Analok and Jennie Akana – watched over her after her parents died.
“I miss them so much. They’re passed now,” she said of her aunts and uncles, her voice breaking. “I’ll never forget them because they taught me to be the kind, caring person that I am today.”
Joy credits her uncle Frank for reinforcing the importance of education. While Joy was living with her eldest sister, Annie Panak Atighioyak, Frank often checked on her to make sure she attended school, she said. She wound up going to residential school in Inuvik and later graduated from Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife in 1977.
She remained in the NWT capital, where she raised three children and worked at an art gallery. After moving to Alberta and then to B.C., Joy returned home to Cambridge Bay in 1996 and has stayed ever since.
“I always tell my kids I have the best of two worlds because I still speak my language and I have a rich culture,” she said.
Joy has been the school/community counsellor at Kiilinik High School for the past two years. In that role, she draws on her ability to empathize.
“I always put myself in (the students’) shoes to see how they’re feeling,” she said. “It’s the reward of just being there, somebody to talk to when they need somebody.”
However, retirement is on the horizon – this will be her last year at the school. Her future will consist of sewing and, undoubtedly, more volunteering, she said.
The causes to which Joy and husband have devoted their time over the years form a long list: Omingmak Frolics spring carnival, wrapping gifts for children at Christmas and distributing them, holiday food hampers, she used to assist with Christmas games, she is a former chair of the district education authority, she’s a member of the auxiliary Coast Guard and she helps oversee fundraising bingos for the Coast Guard and the Elks.
“I find it rewarding. The endless thank yous, the smiles,” she said. “It’s so nice to see people happy. They appreciate it.”
Haomik Joy was chosen as a Canada 150 “Unsung Hero” medal winner based on this nomination:
“Bessie is a longtime volunteer within the community of Cambridge Bay. Her dedication and commitment have ensured quality events, while creating a high-class standard for hospitality within the community for visitors and residents to enjoy. This has contributed to the growth and success of the community; her dedication to training and following the spirit of volunteerism inspires other members of the community to a standard of professionalism and has enabled Cambridge Bay to play host to several large-scale events. She has worked tirelessly to build up her community and continues to work hard to this day.”