Sisters

My two little sisters are a blessing and a curse. I have memories of their births, though some of the details get a little confused. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night and getting carried out to our old chevy pick up truck but I don’t know if my other sister was there. We never went for rides in the middle of the night, only for Christmas Eve Mass, so an outing such as this was not forgotten. The other memory I have is driving to the hospital with my dad and our cat Dax, again I don’t know if my other sister was there. This memory I think is the most important because it shows how unimportant the birth of a sister was to my child mind. We had arrived at the hospital and my mom was lying in bed. She might have been holding my new-born baby sister, or perhaps it was my dad. Then my mom had opened up a drawer, took out a box of smarties and gave me the box of treats. I was so happy about those smarties, nothing else mattered, and that is all I can remember. As a mother I can reflect on my mom’s choices during that night in the hospital so long ago, and I now understand  that I was most certainly being bribed.

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They were so cute back in the ’80s.

Our birth order certainly shaped our personalities; we were your typical trio. As the first born I always had to set an example for my little sisters, and consequently am a little tightly wound up. The middle child, Lynette, had to negotiate within the complicated power relations of our family, and is always wheeling and dealing. The youngest, Bernette, watched her older sisters make mistakes, and now has the “I’ll show them all” attitude. (I still don’t know why my parents went with the “ette”s. I could have been a really good Annette)

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Lynette preparing for our youngest sister’s wedding.

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Bernette giving me the “WTF Amanda?” look.

My sons love hearing me tell stories about my sisters and I growing up, especially the ones where there is fighting involved. I try telling them about how we played with my-little-ponies or pretended to be mermaids in the ditches near the railway tracks, but they prefer to hear about the sister fights. They like to know that we were bad kids too. Like, what kind of young girl in a fit of anger would decide to throw an empty porcelain sheep-shaped Avon perfume bottle at her sister’s head? And what kind of girls would tie up their youngest sister to a chair and then shut off the lights and leave her in the basement? Yeah, my sons love hearing about that one.

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Me and my sisters.

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I see a resemblance between my boys and my sisters when they were kids.

Being the eldest I still feel responsible for my sisters. Sometimes I wonder if my eldest son feels this for his younger brother or not? He is growing up in a very different kind of family than the one that my sisters and I had to deal with. I am providing my boys with a safe and loving environment where they don’t need to protect each other in the home. Growing up I had to watch out for my sisters all the time – the drinking brought out the worst in the adults. My mom did her best to protect us but she wasn’t always there.

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Thanksgive’r tableau.

As adults, we still act like those little girls when we get together. We love to laugh at each other. We break off into pairs, and whisper about the other sister behind her back. We talk about ex boyfriends and poke at old wounds that only we know are there. No one can hurt us like we can. My middle sister recently found out that her partner of 10 years was cheating on her. Her grief is heartbreaking but soon enough she will be back out there wheeling and dealing. Her pain is short term and nothing like the scars that us sisters have inflicted on each other. Those scars are there for us to pick at and to remind us that we are always sisters. This year my youngest sister married her partner with whom she’s been with forever, and now they are finally talking about starting a family, just for me, so I can be an aunty. Hahaha. Perhaps they will start another generation of sisters.

 

Over these years we’ve pushed and pulled each other but we know that we are sisters. We are family and we will always stand by each others sides, no matter what.

-xox your big sis, Amanda Laliberte

 

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How do you say “dating” in Dene?

When I was younger, around eleven or so, I told my mom I was in love with Brian. He was a boy in my class, we had been good friends since Kindergarten, and he and I were now in love.

She was cool. “Ok.”

So began those first awkward steps into dating. I had a Friday the 13th Slumber Party (I know, I was a weird kid, but it was awesome) and we held hands as we watched scary movies. My cousin had a birthday party and invited him, and we shared our first kiss on the trampoline as our friends watched. I remember thinking “don’t blush, don’t blush, be cool.” We went to the same Bible Camp in the summer (sigh, I know, but all the kids did it) and he would meet me at the lake when our groups went swimming, and we would splash water at each other, laugh, and then run away.

It was all incredibly innocent and fun, and I am so thankful he was my first boyfriend because we were friends throughout, and stayed friends to this day. I don’t even remember how we broke up – I’ll have to read my old diaries, ha – but my entire youth has memories of him – bike riding, climbing trees, late night phone calls, slow dances, stolen kisses, and walks around town. And it’s all so idyllic.

Dating nowadays, not so much.

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Last year, I decided to try dating. I had been in a long-term relationship, and when that ended, I took some time to heal. To be alone and to work on my own goals and I succeeded. Wrote some words. Published some images. Took some trips. Had a great time.

I then decided to try this dating thing.

And I was so badddddd at it.

Like, awful.

Let’s not confuse dating and sex, mmmkay. Sex is easy. Sex is effortless. I could sleep with a new person each week, no problem, if that’s what I wanted. There is no shortage to people who want to have sex – easy, casual, emotional free sex.

But that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted to try the butterflies again. The nervousness. I wanted to get the secret grins, and the anticipation. I wanted to look forward to seeing and thinking about someone else again.

One of the first dates I went on was with a white guy. Which was new for me. Being from a small Northern Indigenous community, I usually dated Dene’s, Cree’s and sometimes, when I was feeling exotic, Métis. But “dating” in the North – it’s not like in the city.

Dating in the city seems to be ‘lets go out and do something together, come home, and plan another date, if the first one went well.’

Dating in the North is more akin to “let’s go for a drive/to a party/to the lake/etc” and all sudden, you’re “going out” and in a long-term relationship for the next three to six years.

There is no in between.

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But me and this white guy, I call him Dreamcatcher, I met him online, of course, and we chatted, exchanged numbers, and set a date. He was an amateur photographer and knew the difference between f-stop and ISO, so he had me at “Canon.” He sent me some of his images to check out and while I cringed, I also kept silent.

Art is subjective, I said to myself.

On date night, Dreamcatcher picks me up at my place, and hops out of the truck and opens the door for me. Me, in typical Tenille-fashion, am rocking bright red lips and massive Savage Rose feather earrings. And people always have a comment on my earrings.

“Hey. Nice earrings. Did you hunt for the feathers yourself?”

Ummmm, no.

“So I knew an Indian in high school … do you know him?”

“So I knew a girl who made dreamcatchers… do you make them?”

“So you get cheap smokes, hey?”

“So, you’re a Pocahottie, hey? You don’t look supperrrr Indian, but I can tell.”

By the time we got to the coffee shop, I was wide eyed in amazement – how did he not get how rude and racist these questions were? But as the barista made my caramel macchiato, I decided to go all in. If this was gonna be my first date with a white guy, so be it. Let’s get all the ignorant questions out there.

“So, the guy who pumped my gas this morning, he was white. Blond and blue eyes. You know him?”

“So, ever date your cousin? I know how limited the small towns are…”

“So, like living on my land?”

“So, where are you really from? Like, where did you people come from?”

Needless to say, that date did not end well.

Nor did the date with a new guy after that. No, I do not want to use my treaty card to pay for your gas. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not interested in a debate about what “equal rights” means and how we should abolish treaties. Nor did the date after that. No, I’m not a fake Indian, and yes, I have lived on reserve.

It was absolutely crazy to me how often my Indigenous identity would come into play.

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Finally, I contacted one of my old, old boyfriends. A Cree guy who used to play baseball. I creeped on FB, and I knew was still single and still cute. He was the same old guy – incredibly friendly, sweet, and charming. He came to the city, and we hung out the entire day. Lunch, a walk along the river, chatting, a coffee chop, supper, a movie. Not gonna lie, there was a lot of kissing in-between conversations. And a lot of laughter, joking and grins.

And not once did our Indigenous identities come up in a negative way.

It was a breath of fresh air. I was able to relax and remember how to do this. How to let my guard down and let someone in. How to trust that the conversation coming my way would not be a verbal assault of some sort.

Dating in the city is still weird. I miss the days of knowing everyone in the room, knowing who likes who, knowing who likes you. I miss knowing the community I could get involved in, and the backstories of who already messed around with who. I’m still dating outside my community though, and even meet a non-Indigenous guy who did make me grin and give me butterflies… but that’s another story.

And at least I know to avoid the guys who start the conversation with “wanna play Cowboys and Indians?”

 – tenille campbell