Waswanipi residents and invited dignitaries were on hand for the opening of the community’s long-awaited youth centre. The official ribbon-cutting, held Feb. 15, was attended by Grand Chief Ted Moses and Quebec Native Affairs Minister Guy Chevrette.

The ceremony was followed by a banquet and a concert. Next day, the celebrations continued with a dance DJed by local spinmeisters and Montreal’s MC Mario. On Feb. 17, the centre hosted a Miss Waswanipi contest and fashion show. Sarah Blacksmith won as Miss Waswanipi, followed by Marlena Otter as first runner-up and Elaine Dixon, as second runner-up. Elaine, 17, also won awards for entrepreneurship and artistic talent.

Here is the speech Elaine gave as part of the Miss Waswanipi competition, called “Willing hearts never die.”

Good evening, guests of honour and to all people of Waswanipi and from out of town.

Welcome and welcome again.

My name is Elaine Louise Dixon. I represent the Cree Trappers’ Association of Waswanipi. It is a privilege and I do it with pride and honour.

Today is my birthday. I am 17 years old and I have a twin brother somewhere in this beautiful building. (Happy Birthday Michael.)

I have two addresses – first, in the bush, Windy Lake, where I grew up, and the other address is here in Waswanipi. I love school, sports and living in the bush.

And I love our new youth centre.

And to the people who helped us get it, my story, “Willing hearts never die,” is about you also.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in the wilderness with her two grandmothers, where life was full of love and fun and there was hunting.

My fondest memories are of my two grandmothers Sarah Dixon and Philomene Coonishish. Both were very close to me and became my first true friends.

Love and loyalty I grew to understand, soft and true, their qualities remained strong to the end, as I brushed their white hair I never knew, would be the last time.

Thinking life would remain the same forever, as children we want to grow up fast. And as we get older, we never want to let go our childhood days.

One year apart, the passing away of my grandmothers who were the centre of our lives, was hard for me to take and understand, so I cried often. Still I long to hear their voices and to hold them again.

Because love is so strong and does not want to let go, loved ones who pass away are never really buried here on earth, but live on in our hearts.

Both of my beloved grandmothers had willing hearts and because of this believing had no boundaries. They could be alive in the winds that blow across the cold snow on a lake or in the warm breeze that whispers amongst the trees. To love is never having to say you’re sorry and to cry and miss someone is only human.

“Old trees die, so young ones can grow,” I often heard them say, my grandmothers before leaving this world. As a child then, I thought sticks and stones would be the only things in life to make one cry. Never knowing that tears and smiles would be part of life yet to come, because our hearts could easily be broken by loneliness.

When I cry at night, I pray not to the stars, but to the “one” who made the stars. During the day, as the geese fly by,

I know my grandmothers with their smiles are looking down on them, as I look up to see the geese fly by.

Both of my grandmothers were born and raised in the wilderness. They spoke of legends and stories that belonged to this land of time where everything could speak, animals, birds, trees, rocks and even the earth.

Believing has no boundaries when we have willing hearts.

The greatest legend of all was that the earth and heavens were made in seven days only. After this, the legends say everything sang — even the rocks and the earth gave praise to the creator.

Through my grandmothers I learned that we do not have to be powerful people to have or change things in this world. We only need willing hearts.

So, whether we die young or old with willing hearts we know that there is an internal home where everybody can live happily ever-after.

In the end, I want to say good-bye for now Goo-kom, good-bye for now Chom-shom.

I know I will have children one day, I want to.

“Old trees die, so the young ones can live,” they say, and as the legends and stories are passed down to us, so must we.

I would like to thank Guy Chevrette for coming to the opening of our new youth centre, and also to former Chief John Kitchen for liking my speech (story) so much. Thank you again.