While I don’t consider Saskatoon my home – that will always be the North – I am raising my daughter here, and I’m showing her the best that YXE has to offer. It’s been in part inspired by my friend Melody (a talented photographer based on the West Coast) – she makes it a point to bring her children outside, daily, for hours. She entrenches them in their traditions, language, culture and community, and I adore it.
So a few months ago, I started that with Aerie, but our own version. I wanted Aerie to go outside and to explore, to see the city, to see nature, to eat different foods, and to have fun with me.
Raising a Dene daughter on Treaty 6 Territory (Cree/Nehiyawak) is something that’s not far from my mind. I’m often pleased by the amount of brown faces I see in the crowd, I’m extremely happy with how culturally diverse her daycare is, and I love the fact that we can find cultural support within and around Saskatoon, aside from our own families, if we need it. These are things that are important to me, as raising her as an Urban Indigenous is a lot more tricky now that we aren’t on our traditional lands.
So, to share with her, I teach her where we are, within Indigenous context. I feel we should always try to acknowledge whose land we are guests on, and it’s my job to teach my child that as well.
So we begin with walks. We cross the Train Bridge (Saskatoon being called the “City of Bridges” – this is just one of the seven bridges Saskatoon has. And we look upon the river, and I tell her what the river is called in Cree – kisiskāciwani-sīpiy – meaning “swift flowing river.”
She sounds it out slowly. It’s a game to her, matching the longer flowing syllables. She speaks Cree as slowly and clumsily as I do, but we try.
Once she has mastered the word, we move on, and she skips down the bridge, singing “sipiiiyyyy sippiiyyyy sippiiyyyy” off-tune and loudly. I smile.
A few days later, we drawl down to the sandbars. She runs and plays, emerging muddy but happy. The next day, I show my Dad some of the images, and he shakes his head. He’s not happy with me.
“Your Grandpa, he wouldn’t like this,” Dad starts. He’s talking slow and deep, and the hair on my arms start to rise. My Grandpa has long passed, but if Dad starts dropping Indigenous Knowledge on me, I’m gonna listen. “He wouldn’t like this. He would say the river is like a snake – sand shifts and moves, and it’s fast and quick. You never let your child play on the banks of a river.”
We are never going on the riverbanks again.
*laughing cry face*
Saskatoon has been developing their downtown riverbank sections for some time now, and I finally took Aerie down there. This Victoria Bridge was demolished a year ago, or so, and Aerie was staring at it real hard, confused.
We walked in the waterpark area, which hasn’t been turned on yet, and I showed Aerie the Batoche section, and showed her where Mama (Grandma) had grown up, not far down the river. We sat in the sun as I told her stories of hay bales, riding bareback on ponies, and running after the truck when my Grandpa would drive off in the fields. She laughed, nodded, and asked, real serious – “is this where I go jigging?”
Yes, baby. yes.
We generally end our days at the park. Aerie has learned the hard way not to chase geese, she knows which parks are her favourites, and she knows the Cree and Dene words for “come here!”
We sit beside each other on the bench, watching the sunset. “How do you say that in Dene?” she asks.
“I don’t know how to say sunset in Dene, but the sun is sa,” I tell her. She says it loudly, pointing the sun. I laugh at how her voice makes the other kids turn to look at us.
“And in Cree?” she asks.
I quickly check my Cree Online Dictionary App (you know it!) and show her – “pahkisimon.”
She sounds it out again, slowly.
Then she looks at me. “I know how to say sun in Spanish – sol.” Then off she runs.
– tenille campbell