Tribute by Melissa Salter
I work at Katzie—pronounced Kate-zee not cat-zee—yes, I work at Katzie. Oh—you’re thinking sadly—the school Naomi worked at. Yup. That is where I work and have worked for four years, all of which I worked with Naomi.
I work at the school where a few days before school started, we found out she was missing. No answers. No leads. Nothing. Just questions. It was surreal. We didn’t know if we should talk to each other about her or what to say when kids asked. We were all on hold waiting for any news.
Words of support and food were sent from across the district. Multiple schools sent treats over the first few weeks with notes. It made our large district seem a little smaller and our staff appreciated the gestures.
As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, we all continued to worry and wait. Naomi was the elephant in the room. We didn’t want to talk about her or wonder what had happened—but many of us would get caught off guard by a moment or memory. Sometimes these would come pouring from our mouths and suddenly a group of us would be sharing memories over lunch.
Could we grieve properly? No. Were we still holding on to a shred of hope? Maybe. After IHIT was at her home for so long, many of us suspected the worst, but with no updates —we were all just sort of stuck.
Many of us attended virtual and in person workshops. We were the ones you all looked at slightly sadly and murmured a comment to. The other librarian at my school is one of my closest work colleagues, and I think she has dealt with this the most. We have commiserated on dreading being asked how we were—not great. And if we knew anything more—Nope. The questions we all knew were coming but caught in our throats a little.
My amazing colleague walks into her library every single day and sits at a desk next to where Naomi sat. Naomi who helped plan displays for the library and had a gentle heart. Naomi who loved books and loved her job. Naomi who the students love. They keep coming into the library to ask my colleague if Ms. Onotera is coming back. We now have the answer that no one wanted.
And yet, we still do not know why. We may never know why.
What can we do now?
As a district, a school, a colleague, and a friend—we can mourn and grieve. Of course, the news comes a day too late to collect in her library and have a good cry together, but many are meeting virtually. I am sure we will find ways to grieve when school starts again in two weeks but right now, my heart is breaking for my colleagues, my students, and Naomi’s family. People whom I wish I could be close to in order to grieve alongside of—but I can’t right now, so I write.
Writing is my way of processing, and it helps me think through things. Naomi helped me with my writing. Last year when I was working on a picture book that I am co-authoring based on the oral history of two of my former students, Naomi offered to read the book and give feedback. The story was inspired by the students’ great grandmother, who was sent to a Japanese Internment Camp during WW2. This person spent time at the Hastings Park Clearing Centre before going to Greenwood with her family. Naomi’s own father was at Greenwood. He had also been sent there with his family during WW2 because he was Japanese. She offered to read the book and give feedback. Her ideas were thoughtful, and I remember her telling me she loved the name of one my character’s because it was her cousin’s name. Naomi was so kind.
In June when I saw her for the last time, she told me that she was inspired by my story to record her family history. She wanted to interview her dad in the summer to record what his life was like as a child going through internment and the rebuilding of his family when they were finally allowed back to the coast. She wanted to record it for her daughter. In the spring, I might ask Naomi’s sister if Naomi had a chance to fulfill her wish. If she didn’t, I am going to ask if I can. If I can talk to her father and sister to record the history and turn it into a story for her daughter, just as Naomi wanted.
What can we do right now?
I know as a school; we want to do something… maybe a friendship bench…a few people suggested planting a cherry tree. We will work together to find the right way to carry on the memory of this loving woman.
But what can we do right now as we grieve? Naomi was so giving. Naomi was so kind. She was always willing to help and saw the good in everyone. We can be like Naomi. We can be giving. Today as I was shopping, I grabbed a food bank bag to add to my groceries, because I think Naomi would have done that. I am also thinking of donating the Nikkei Centre in her name or a children’s charity. She loved her daughter, her family, and her students.
My heart is broken. I am not shocked by today’s announcement, but I am numbed and saddened by it. Yes, I work at Katzie and yes, I miss Naomi.
Reprinted from www.melissasalter.ca/blog
Original Post: December 18th 2021
Tribute by Angela Marcakis
I met Naomi in 2016 when she came to Creekside to teach Kindergarten. She was so kind and gentle, with a contagious smile, and we enjoyed many times together with our Creekside family. Unfortunately for us she was laid off that year and went on to pick up a position at Katzie Elementary. We kept in touch over the years through Facebook, where she often shared beautiful photos of her and her daughter, often in the garden or traveling with family. Over the last year I would smile whenever I saw her name pop up in the list of attendees of a few of the STA events I organized on the Status of Women Committee, such as the virtual dance and virtual paint nights, and looked forward to when we could do events in-person again.
My heart has been extremely heavy since the news of her disappearance, and I am now filled with sadness and grief knowing she was murdered. As an advocate for ending violence against women, the work is always heavy. It can feel like an uphill losing battle at times, especially when it hits so close to home. Enough is enough! We need the government to fund better supports for women. We need more education and awareness about gender-based violence. And we need more men to join the fight. Violence against women is a men’s issue too.
My condolences go out to Naomi’s daughter, parents, sister, family, friends, students and all of our colleagues who ever had the joy of working alongside her. As teachers, we “plant seeds of knowledge” in our students that grow forever. In the next couple of years, the students Naomi taught at Creekside will be in my class, and I look forward to continuing to nurture those seeds she planted in Kindergarten. 🌱
Rest In Peace Naomi, you will be missed so very much. ❤️