|My Mom and I|
By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)
The Canadian state has long had policies that were made to destroy First Nations families. Apart from residential schools, and other colonial practices, the next worst thing that the Canadian government did was to remove First Nations children from their birth families and adopt them out.
Making the journey back home is one that is wrought with many emotions. It is an emotional rollercoaster that can be exhausting because it consists of initial excitement and elation and can quickly turn to frustration, anger and then give way to a certain sadness that will tear at your insides if you are not careful.
I just came back from a two and a half week visit with my birth mom and her partner. The visit had me leaving Toronto, hopping a plane to Winnipeg and then taking a two-hour Greyhound bus ride to a little town called Ashern.
Ashern, Manitoba is located in the heart of Manitoba’s Northwest Interlake and is a sleepy little hamlet of about 1,500 to 2,000 people. It is about an hour away from my home reserve of Peguis First Nation. My visit served many purposes. It was not only about spending time with my mom but it was also about having a mini vacation away from everything so that I could work on my memoir manuscript and learn more about my family history and legacy.
This visit wasn’t my first time home; I had gone to see my mom back in October 2012. The emotions I encountered this time around were at times difficult to deal with, as I sat and listened to the stories my mom and her partner told me from years ago. I was told stories that spoke to the colonial practices and policies that have been instilled by the Canadian government. I heard stories that detailed the loss of language, culture and tradition, and the ensuing estrangement of family members, the onslaught of addiction issues, diabetes amongst family members and death. I was told about so many deaths that my head spun. There was the murder of my maternal grandmother at the hands of her own sister, the murder of my biological father, the ensuing words that were issued to me by my mom’s partner
“Your dad died like a dog in the street.”
Those words hit me like a semi truck and not only made me seethe inside at how someone could have the gall to say such unkind words, but also made me feel an overwhelming sense of sadness because there were questions I had about my father that I now knew would go unanswered. It may sound like I am complaining, but I’m not. I’m telling a truth that not many people want to hear- many First Nations families are reeling from losses that go back generations. The losses are not just physical, they are also emotional, spiritual and mentally.
My siblings and I were taken from my mom as mere toddlers. The years that ensued after that consisted of my mom just trying to get by in any way she could. She has lived in abject poverty, has been dealing with mental health and addiction issues, struggles with diabetes and is trying her best to be a mom to a woman (me) even though she grew up herself, without her own mom.
The rifts in First Nations families that have been caused by the Canadian state are staggering, and though it saddens me immensely, I also see an amazing amount of resilience on the part of my mom that makes me choke up and hold the tears back that I want to shed.