High School graduate Chad Bonnatrouge cleans St. Theresa Church in Tulita where he finds time and space to think.


High School graduate Chad Bonnatrouge cleans St. Theresa Church in Tulita where he finds time and space to think.

August 29, 2011

TULITA, N.W.T. — On the edge of turning 22, Chad Bonnatrouge doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, hasn't touched drugs, lives with his grandparents and sticks to himself. He graduated from high school in Tulita a couple of years ago and is uncertain what his next move should be.

He's got family in Vancouver and they have invited him to join them. He's been there once and is unsure whether he wants to go back. For now he stacks firewood and fetches groceries for his grandparents.

He volunteers for the Tulita Land and Financial Corporation. The volunteer hours qualify him for payments from the corporation, which administers funds from the 1994 Sahtu Dene and Metis Land Claim Agreement.

Sister Celeste Goulet remembers how at his graduation ceremony the whole village roared in approval when Bonnatrouge's name was called. Graduation for this quiet, lonely kid was perhaps not a sure thing.


The Land and Financial Corporation sends Bonnatrouge regularly to St. Theresa's to clean the church. Bonnatrouge likes spending time in the church. It's quiet and gives him time to think.

He calls Vancouver an "uncomfortable place to be."

But Tulita can be an uncomfortable place, as well. As time slips by, Bonnatrouge is gaining little work experience and no education.

Graduation from Chief Albert Wright School isn't really quite enough to prepare a student for a college course. Students from Tulita generally need one or two years of extra study at the Yellowknife-based Aurora College before they're ready to take on vocational training.

Then there's the drinking.

"Some of them use that to take away their pain, their sorrow," said Bonnatrouge.

He understands what drives young people to drugs and alcohol, but it scares him.

"Some of us don't do that stuff, because most of us don't like what happens to us," he said.

"Me and my family members sometimes see them drinking and smoking. When they drink too much we, most of us young people, act before anything happens to them. We bring them to our elders, our family members, and let them stay there until they quiet down."

Though he appreciates how the 600 people of Tulita pull together and help one another, it doesn't make his decision about whether to stay any easier.

"(Young people) think the cities can give you hope. But not all cities give you hope," he said. "I want all the kids to have a better life than most kids do, to have a happy life. Life here gives them a little hope, a little happiness."


Bonnatrouge is slow and careful talking to me. His answers come with effort. Talking to a reporter from far away makes him nervous. He tries hard to give me the right answers - to represent Tulita well. It's hard to imagine him succeeding in Edmonton or Vancouver or any city.

He looks to the Church and Tulita's elders for guidance.

"The Lord guides us to the future and the life we need - not anything else, not all that drinking and the smoking. The Lord and the people who help us don't bring us to the wrong path. . . .

"The people who are kind to us, they can help us to find that path. They can open the door to us, to help us to have hope, a path, a family."