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Viviane Snowboy shops for other people’s presents in Sudbury

BY Patrick Quinn Dec 18, 2020

This year’s holiday season will be different – like pretty much everything since the Covid-19 pandemic came into our lives. While ongoing travel restrictions in Eeyou Istchee have resulted in more people shopping locally or online, Viviane Snowboy has a creative alternative.

The former Chisasibi resident has lived in Sudbury for five years, where many Crees go for their annual “big shop”. After noticing that many of her Facebook friends were posting about wanting to go shopping down south, Snowboy realized she could help.

“I said to my husband maybe we should shop for people up North,” Snowboy told the Nation. “Since I live in Sudbury, I decided to take the initiative and say I can do this for you. I posted it on the bulletin board and told everybody what I was trying to do – for a small fee we can help each other out.”

While Crees usually make several shopping trips to various southern cities each year, Snowboy explained that Sudbury is popular because of its easily accessible big-box stores. By shopping on their behalf, she saves them a 16-hour drive.

“It saves them quite a bit of money because coming from up North they have to pay for gas and hotel rooms – and that’s a lot of money in itself,” said Snowboy. “I negotiate what I would charge them – and they pay the shipping. Everyone’s been happy so far. I’m helping them and they’re helping me, because living in a city adds financial stress sometimes.”

When Snowboy was younger, her family would do their Christmas shopping in Ottawa, where they eventually moved. About five years ago, her family moved back to Chisasibi while she went to Sudbury to enrol in the Law and Justice program at Laurentian University. 

She stayed after graduating last year because her husband is from the area and she found a job with the Greater Sudbury Police. While she thinks about returning home, she’s enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with her community and language through this initiative.

“It’s nice to talk to community members and speak Cree almost every day, because my husband doesn’t speak Cree,” Snowboy shared. “I miss it a lot and try to visit as much as I can, but Covid is making it difficult to go home.”

Snowboy hasn’t been going out much during the pandemic, instead working from home and buying groceries online. In early November, there were 60 active Covid cases in Sudbury and the city was shut down. But when the situation quickly improved, she took advantage of the opportunity. 

She said there has been a safe level of shoppers in the stores she’s asked to frequent, such as Toys ‘R’ Us and Walmart. As her outreach was initially limited to Chisasibi, she had shopped for a manageable seven clients but planned to help a few others via the Mistissini buy-and-sell page before it got too late for packages to arrive in time for Christmas.

“I didn’t want to post my service everywhere and have an overwhelming number of clients,” said Snowboy, who balances responsibilities of five children and her job. “It’s worth the runaround. It makes me feel good because I’m helping others – it’s a win-win.”

Snowboy is often seen carrying large boxes or FaceTime-ing people in stores, confirming which products they’re seeking. She’s become a familiar figure at Canada Post, where she sends off her packages. So far, her boxes have all been under the 50-pound limit, but there have been some close calls.

“One customer ordered a giant dollhouse, like ‘it-almost-broke-my-back’ big,” laughed Snowboy. “I thought, the post office wasn’t going to accept it, but it just made it. The woman at Canada Post said it’s you again and I said you’ll be seeing me a lot.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.