Cathleen Kneen: Our big sister

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Cathleen Kneen engages panelists at Inter Pares’ 2009 AGM.
 Cathleen Kneen engages panelists at Inter Pares’ 2009 AGM.Credit: Inter Pares

BY ERIC CHAURETTE, PROGRAM Manager

“Hello, little brother,” Cathleen would say as she greeted me and gave me one of her characteristically long hugs. We would then plunge right into our work – although calling it work does not really reflect how it felt. Over ten years, we travelled to Mali to meet with farmers and allies from across the globe. We worked together on the People’s Food Policy. And after years of chairing Food Secure Canada, Cathleen passed that torch to me.
 
It was a sad moment during a Food Secure Canada staff and board retreat that we learned of Cathleen’s passing due to pancreatic cancer. Being with so many people who had been touched by her brilliance and generosity was both moving and comforting. We placed a candle in the center of a large circle, and shared stories of her.
 
Telling stories is one of the many things Cathleen did so remarkably well. She listened to people’s tales and shared them in the hope of helping people find meaning and solutions in their struggles. “Oh, you should talk to so-and-so,” she would often say, knitting new friendships among people from different geographies, cultures, and world views.
 
Alongside her very full life as a loving wife, mother, and grandmother, Cathleen was a tireless organizer and a courageous activist and feminist. Her chosen movements included nuclear disarmament, women’s shelters, and food sovereignty, first as a farmer and then as an organizer. Moving from St. John’s to Toronto, to Pictou County, Nova Scotia, to Sorrento, British Columbia and finally to Ottawa, Cathleen mentored people of all ages. She built bridges among non-Indigenous and Indigenous people, and among rural and urban activists.
 
Reflecting back on her work, she said: “If I’ve achieved anything in all these years it’s been the development of important relationships – which are incarnated in organizations, but the organizations are really there because the people who created them believe in what they’re doing.”
 
Many of us had the privilege of working and learning with Cathleen. She is very much among us still – in our politics and analysis, in our work, and in our hearts. Thank you, big sister!

 

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