Editor’s note: Mary Pat Short is president of the Fort Smith Seniors Society.

Dear editor,

This is a sad story which, we continue to hope, will have a happy ending. It is also a story about the importance of honour, trust and commitment.  For 23 years, the Town of Fort Smith has leased a room in the Town’s Recreation Centre to the Fort Smith Seniors Citizens’ Society.  

When the Recreation Centre was being built, the seniors raised $35,000, the equivalent of $60,000 in today’s money, on the explicit understanding that the room would be leased and managed by the Seniors’ Society of that time and for generations to come. 

Renovations on the Community Recreation Centre in Fort Smith. photo courtesy of the Town of Fort Smith

In January of this year, without prior consultation or any credible reason, the town council of Fort Smith cancelled the four-year lease it had signed in June 2020.  The seniors of Fort Smith felt blindsided by the decision of our elected officials, particularly as we have been exemplary tenants and have always shared the room, with other groups doing worthwhile, community-oriented activities.

It is a simple matter really.  We signed a lease with the Town in good faith and are simply asking the Town to honour that commitment.  

While we are pleased that some of the Town Councillors have supported the seniors, we feel that other elected officials are out of touch with the will of the people of Fort Smith.  

We are grateful for the strong support of the three local Indigenous leaders, three former mayors and the president and three past presidents of the NWT Seniors’ Society. 

When my brother, who visited Fort Smith a few years ago, was told about our dispute with the Town, he was puzzled and said, “I thought northerners had a particular regard for elders.”  In fact, that is true of people throughout the north including Fort Smith.  It is the reason that scores of Fort Smith citizens have signed a petition requesting that the Town Council reinstate our lease.  

Unfortunately, not all of the Town’s elected officials have shown respect.  

One councillor told the media about attending a meeting with seniors and stated, “Council and administration was accused, by allegory, of being Hitler and Stalin.”  It is true that seniors disagreed with this Councillor, but his response was troubling, inaccurate and hardly respectful. Name calling does not lend itself to problem solving.  

Communication, consultation, dialogue and negotiation do.

As I said at the beginning, this column is about honour, trust and commitment.  Seniors have lived long lives, and one of the lessons we have learned is that honourable people fulfill their commitments and are trusted for doing so.  

We, the members of the Fort Smith Seniors’ Society are asking the Town’s elected officials to respect and support the interests of the elders by rescinding motions that would impede the commitment that they have made to us, and honouring our four-year lease.

Mary Pat Short, Fort Smith

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