Carver gives hope to a generous but hurting community

Jessie Dawson knows the devastation fire can bring. The Kwanlin Dun First Nation councillor remembers when she lost more than possessions in a fire. She lost family.

Jessie Dawson knows the devastation fire can bring.

The Kwanlin Dun First Nation councillor remembers when she lost more than possessions in a fire.

She lost family.

“Lives you can’t replace, but material things you can,” she said.

Dawson is trying to organize a silent auction to help Shawn Johnnie replace things he lost in the fire that took his soon-to-be-completed home and carving tools.

Johnnie is an artist who, together with some friends, pooled money and holiday time to build a small cabin on his mother’s land down Long Lake Road.

As the finishing touches were underway on his new home, a faulty, secondhand oil-drip stove caused a fire that turned it all to ashes.

Since then, the First Nation, local construction companies and several friends and community members have come out to help Johnnie rebuild.

The compassion has been overwhelming, said Johnnie.

He’s been trying to turn his life around for about a year, focusing on carving to keep himself sober and out of trouble.

His dream is to build a little carving studio on his family’s land, he said.

Johnnie’s push for a better life has spurred Dawson to action.

“Right now our community is struggling with our youth, and we don’t want to see any more death,” she said. “We want to encourage him (Johnnie) to keep going on that straight and narrow.”

Dawson’s colleague Ray Webb pushed to build a new cabin once he heard news of Johnnie’s hardship.

He was acting chief at the time.

“As soon as the chief (Mike Smith) came back, I basically told him what I did and he said, ‘I would have done the same thing, I’m proud of you,’” Webb said.

However, recent deaths in the community have slowed construction.

Johnnie is taking on some of the work, like drywalling, in exchange for help with the electrical, he said.

Once the First Nation is done with their work, he and the few friends who originally started building the previous cabin during their Christmas holidays, will finally get to put on the finishing touches.

“I can’t wait to get in there, said Johnnie.

Grateful for the enormous support, Johnnie was humble in listing his needs.

Furniture, like his bed, was lost in the fire and he still needs to find a way to heat his new home but, chuckling, he adds he has no plans to go with another oil-drip stove.

Dawson is open to donations of all sorts, including any performances that could be included on the night of the silent auction, she says.

A date and place has not been set, but Dawson is sure of one thing:

“When people are having a hard time, that’s what we do, we come together and help whatever way we can,” she said. “It’s the way my grandparents taught me: when you see someone who needs help, help them. Because one of these days you may need help.

Dawson can be reached at the Kwanlin Dun First Nation office about donations or more information.

She has asked that people include the value of their donations when dropping them off.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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