Fay Michelle has seen a lot of changes at the Bridge River band office since 1984 – including changing offices a couple times – and she’s likely to see more, as she has no plans to leave any time soon.
“I did a little bit of a stint at Cariboo College and did some work at the band office and then they needed somebody to start in the office so I started in the office in reception,” Michell said.
“I did a lot of stints in housing, education, membership, I worked with a lot of people throughout the years, the schools, fisheries issues that were going on, education, our water rights.”
That work has spanned three different band offices starting in the log-constructed building just up the road where Michell’s most vivid memory is of jostling with other staff members to stay as close as possible to the wood-fired heater during the winter months.
“We worked in that old square log building where in the winter time it was so cold that we fought to stay beside the stove.”
That was the office for approximately 20 years of Michell’s time with the band, followed by a move next door into a double-wide trailer before transferring to the comparatively palatial new location on Joseph Road in 2008.
Three-and-a-half decades working for the band has produced a lot of memories, and the ones that stand out are as likely to be the little, human ones as major events.
“The one thing I remember the most was when I got a telephone call from the school: ‘can you come and pick up one of your students, one of your students has missed the bus.’ So I went down to pick him up–he came in from Alberta–it was just so sweet, I asked him ‘how did you miss the bus, didn’t you just follow everybody else to get on the bus?’ he said ‘I didn’t have the 35 cents for the bus driver to get on the bus’, Michell recalled still moved to laughter by the memory.
“He lived so long in the city that he thought he had to pay the bus driver to get on the bus. So, I said ‘no, no, not in Lillooet you don’t pay the school bus driver to get on the bus. But that was the sweetest, he was just a little seven or eight-year-old boy.”
Michell said while 35 years is a long time, it’s gone by quickly moving into a community health rep position in 2002 and then becoming community health coordinator in 2009.
“My best endeavours, that I really enjoyed was being a doula. I was able to be with nine of the moms giving birth and those are my highlights, being there when babies are born. It’s awesome.”
Michell’s other responsibilities include medical travel, prenatal nutrition, Aboriginal diabetes program, water monitoring and HIV/AIDs. She works closely with all other health programs at the Xwisten Health Department, band administration, the First Nations Health Authority, St’at’imc Outreach Health Service, other St’at’imc communities and Interior Health.
Working with others is a big part of the job, particularly within her own department, as emphasized by health manager Josephine Froste.
“My motto here is we’re a health team, everybody’s equal everybody has a say, nobody’s above each other,” she said.
“We have a good health team and we just wanted to honour her because 35 years is a lot of years to put in and I’m going to say that she’s a dinosaur.”
That one cracks up Michell who is quick to agree: “I’m starting to feel my aches and pains as an old dinosaur,” she laughed.
All joking aside, Froste said, Michell’s contribution–which is far from finished–has been a huge one.
“She’s been around a while and we just wanted to acknowledge it because of all the work that she’s done; her schedule is very busy, back-to-back, booking two events in one day sometimes.”
Michell interjects with a grin.
“Try three. I can do hearing clinics, eye clinics and diabetes all in one day,” she said contentedly.
“And she even has doctors coming in here, as well, so the community members can come in here instead of going downtown,” Froste said.
Carter Hearing also provides services on site as needed, and an optometrist from the lower mainland makes twice-yearly visits.
Michell’s hard work over all those years was also acknowledge by the Bridge River Chief, council and staff, who sent her to a Seattle Seahawks game (she’s a huge fan) in September, where she was treated like royalty by the ushers and pushed around in a chair because she had an injured knee at the time.
“I had fun. I had a blast. I lost my voice screaming so loud.”