Remembering Betty Nordin
February 8th, 1946 - August 14th, 2021
When Betty Nordin wrote the words of her poem “Nobody sees her” in 2002, she was sharing her own painful experiences and calling for readers to pay more attention to the lives and dangers of women trying to survive homelessness and life on the streets. It was a deeply personal sharing, like each of the poems she wrote.
She had no idea it would be handed out on the street in Vancouver during the Picton murder trials or shared even further by Amnesty International. She had no idea her moving poetry would lead to her being honoured with an Esquao Award. She just knew too many women, who could have been her, had died or been profoundly damaged, and no one had noticed or cared.
Betty Nordin died in August at the age of 75, after many years of poor health. She was laid to rest in a green burial, as she chose, a dream catcher made of elk points that she created tucked in the shroud with her. After smudging with sweetgrass, those gathered at the grave listened to “Women’s warrior song” by Sawt Martina Pierre, sung as she was buried. But for those who knew her over her years living in Boyle Street and McCauley she will be remembered for her hard work on behalf of murdered and missing women, a strong supporter of the Prostitution Action and Awareness Foundation of Edmonton (now CEASE) in its work to end sexual exploitation, and as a vendor for the Our Voice street newspaper, on the street in every sort of weather with a welcoming smile for each one who passed by.
Even when poor health confined her to her apartment she still cared for others. Each year in November she would have a box set up in the building’s lobby and ask all the residents of the facility to donate socks to go to Bissell Centre for giving to those in need.
During her life, she had four collections of poetry published, She believed she was led to writing by God and that it was a path for her from the life of struggle on the streets to a new stability and peace, although she had to work hard to find that new life. At her funeral service one of her poems was read, with some lines that say, “My life is like a Phoenix/ Hope which rose from the ashes/ of loneliness and despair, anger and frustration/ . . . But today this is all behind me/ . . . For I have/ risen like a Phoenix from the ashes.”
Jim works with Inner City Pastoral Ministry and is a former Boyle McCauley News board member.