No place like home

When Natasha got the call to go to Yellowknife, the pull was strong. She knew it would be a sacrifice to leave her family back home in Calgary, nearly 1,500 km away—but she also knew that in Yellowknife she’d feel a different sense of “home.” Natasha loved the rhythms of life in a Northern community. She grew up in the Yukon and Alaska, and has fond memories of the culture and camaraderie, and the challenges of facing the elements and the isolation. She was eager to return to a place where she’d once belonged, where everyone knows the difference between insiders and outsiders. She wasn’t sure what kind of homecoming to expect.

Natasha’s plane landed in Yellowknife in August 2019 where her home office was at the Northern Services Centre, but her work took her to communities all over the territory. Her first trip was to Hay River, one of 33 distinct communities where she’d be working as an Outreach Officer for the Canada Revenue Agency. She knew the residents might feel unsure to see her arrive, but she also knew she was there to bring people information that would help them file their taxes and qualify for the benefits and credits they deserved. The first event was a trade show in the local arena. She was able to answer questions and promote the dedicated telephone line, My Account, the Business Liaison Officer, and more to over 200 attendees. Most were very happy to have a dedicated phone line only for the North so, it was an easier way to start a conversation.

After the first few communities visits, Natasha realized that the service delivery model wasn’t working so, they had to adjust. Instead of the typical PowerPoint presentations with question and answers periods, Natasha collaborated with the CRA Liaison Officer and Service Canada representative to answer individual questions and host information circles. She would sit down with a cup of tea, listen to stories, and ask questions to understand what government assistance they required. When she was in Inuvik, a wise Indigenous manager told her that she was most likely to succeed if she told community members that she was from the North right away; it would help reduce the barriers and increase communication. From then on, Natasha led with this and she could visibly tell that locals were more at ease every single time she told them, which made it easier for them to explain their situation.

The distinction between federal departments can be difficult to navigate so, whether the question was about passports, local government funding, or Old Age Security, what was most important was that the person got answers or they went home knowing where to find information.

When she spoke about making sure people had the tools they needed to file their taxes, she mentioned, “I was most grateful for the days when I arrived with a Northwest Territories Government Services Officer. I knew the local people would feel more at ease and if someone wanted to communicate in their local language, it was possible.”

She is most proud of shifting some peoples beliefs, reducing some peoples fears, and empowering countless to do their own taxes and/or become volunteers for the Community Volunteer Income Tax program. She is honoured to have made suggestions about ways to improve communications and processes to get northern Canadians what they require in a way they can understand.

On reflection of this experience, Natasha said, “I stayed in Yellowknife, working at the Northern Service Centre, as long as I could, until the circumstances of COVID forced me home.” Sitting in her home office in Calgary almost two years later, “I realize that getting back to the North gave me the chance to experience again, the people, the culture, and the environment and that these feelings shaped me in the most remarkable way. It was life changing to go back as an adult and a professional. This time, I had the chance to show people what the CRA could do for them in a way they could understand.”

The homecoming was more than she could have ever expected.

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