Yukon’s Nicole Edwards was a joy-seeking warrior. An advocate and force of nature with a playful twist. Her planned passing has brought a torrent of adjectives to the fore, reminding people of the versatility of her humanity.
People who knew her as a performer may not know of her advocacy. Some might not have known of her grace and genuine interest in people, while being totally impressed with her vocals, passion and stylistic range. Or her song writing. Or her skill as an organizer. Or her perseverance. This list goes on.
Edwards passed away on Sept. 8 at age 50.
She arrived in the Yukon in 1997 and fell in with a bunch of youth affected with passion and enthusiasm for changing the world. She was 10 years older than most of them, who were still in high school. The students held conferences, caucused, came up with ideas and a name, held workshops and throughout it all Edwards held them up and bundled their enthusiasm into an NGO. She was their scribe. The name — Bringing Youth Towards Equality — seemed a mouthful at the time, but BYTE evolved into a charismatic youth group with an ability to see what needed to be done and give it a whirl.
David Prodan, an early accomplice working with BYTE, talked about how inspirational she was to him and how that continues to this day.
He said Edwards’ gift was “unconditional kindness. She accepted you for who you were, and found your strength and your gift and encouraged you to use them, and to follow your dreams and to help others.”
She won a Meritorious Service Medal from the governor general for her advocacy in 2016.
At the same time Edwards was working with youth, she was writing and playing music, honing her reputation as a singer-songwriter with remarkable performances in Yukon and Alaska.
Around 2001, Edwards began to notice that something was going on with her hands, giving her small problems on the guitar. She was losing dexterity and no one knew what it was. Later, she was diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare disease that causes collagen build-up resulting in the hardening of skin and connective tissue. It was chronic, progressive and tiring.
Edwards warriored on, writing, singing, resting, healing, mentoring, with her husband Lee by her side. In 2017 she played her last concert, and as her condition worsened, she doubled down on breath and mindfulness for healing. In 2019, she moved into Copper Ridge Place for two months while Lee had knee surgery and could not care for her.
There, stressed by the nature of institutionalization, she circled her angst into song and wrote and scripted A Yukon Lullaby for Mental Health. It came with options like singing out loud, or wailing, or whispering as one felt inclined, and came with clear instructions to breathe and be kind.
Edwards had two decades of warning from the first signs of her rare disease. She saw it coming; and so, left us with a song and a prayer of her own making. It’s a gift.
She was a gift.
For those wishing to remember Nicole, please share her music and mindfulness resources (www.nicoleedwardsmusic.com). Donations may be made to B.Y.T.E.’s leadership fund.
A Celebration of Life will be held Sept. 26 at 2 p.m.
— With files from Stephanie Waddell
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News