Since my family and I moved from Alert Bay to Victoria, all I’ve been thinking about is how much I miss laughing with my friends up island. My first week back in the city I was texting them and telling them that people weren’t laughing at my stories. I was never much of a story teller but something in me changed. I learned a few things about living in a small community during my three years in Alert Bay, and the most important teaching that I picked up is that shit happens and we are all in it together so let’s laugh about it.
I remember the laughter of my relatives in Saskatchewan. Most of the time we laughed because someone was being teased. I close my eyes and I can see my aunties with their eyes squinted, heads titled up to the sky with big smiles, I hear their cackles and I smell their cigarettes. It didn’t matter who was being teased; we all laughed, especially the one being teased.
When I was little, my dad was always away working up North and my mom didn’t have very much time to herself, between cleaning other peoples homes and taking care of my sisters and I. She had to bring us along to do everything with her. There were the lawyers and doctors homes that our mom cleaned while we vacuumed or daydreamed about living different lives. We went to the the bank where we were told to behave while all four of us stood and waited in the line, and eventually one of us would start to swing on the stanchions (my husband had to look that one up) and we’d either get a scowl from a back teller or our mother. And now I have the convenience of an ATM or doing my banking from home without distractions. She brought us along to the grocery store (I need to practice deep breathing to avoid loosing my shit when I take the boys to the grocery store) where we would be told that if we behaved we could have a free cookie from the bakery. In the days of no iPads or iPhones my mom would visit her friends at their homes and tell us to sit and behave, there were no electronic distractions. I remember that as I got older, I enjoyed listening to the adults talk and laugh. Their was Milli, who was like a kohkum and we all called her Milli Vanilli. She lived in a small apartment where we would look at the most recent items that she knitted or beaded. There my mother would learn how to make moccasins. I would listen to them talk about their week and notice when their voices became quiet which was when I tried harder to hear what they were talking about and then suddenly they would erupt in laughter. In the evenings we would go visit Leah. She was such a tiny lady with a huge personality, great hair and a big heart. She was always, always laughing; it was infectious. We would go to her place to visit but also to do some shopping. It was her place where my mom bought my very first and only pair of brand new Guess jeans, the pair with the ankle zippers. They were so cool and I wore them with my favourite purple silk blouse. Leah was earning her money on the side while my mom was trying to please her eldest daughter who refused to go shopping at the Sally Anne. Years later I learned that Leah died while being held in a prison cell in Saskatoon.
In my circles we laugh, sometimes too much and I am told by a three year old that -we are too loud and that it is not funny. My laughter had always been loud but after living in Alert Bay, it is even louder. Not too sure how that is possible but it has happened. I always knew how to laugh but living in Alert Bay awoke something within me – I learned how to laugh like my aunties and grannies used to. We were always laughing. We laughed at everything and anything. If you were hurt, we laughed. If you were sad, we laughed. If my husband told his “wing wing” joke, we laughed but not always. And its that laughter that allows us to survive even when we are hurting.
We raise them. We hold them. We raise them high the ones we hold. These are the ones who will be our future. They are our children.
In most of my photo sessions I will ask family members to hug their children, squeeze them tight, give them a kiss and hold them high in the sky. There are two reasons why I do this. Firstly, because its a good maneuver to get the children either smiling or laughing. Secondly, it is because our children deserve to be held, comforted, and raised up. Even when I am behind the camera, I see the hope that we all have in our young ones. I am privileged to be able to capture some images of these precious moments that pass us by. I see in the children their innocence, their open honest emotions, and their need for love, acceptance and safety. We are responsible for holding their little hands and guiding them through life. All the ups and downs, we stand by their side.
Because one day, we all need to let go.
Life and death have been on my mind a lot recently. This community has gone through too much heartache the past few months and to be honest, I have lost count of how many people have died here. I am not immune to this. I am constantly reminded of this shared sadness though social media, seeing people hugging and holding each other, or driving around the island and noticing that other drivers or pedestrians are not waving at me. Everyone’s spirits are low and it effects all of us in one way or another, especially when it’s the young people who are the ones passing into the spirit world.
What do I know about death? How can I understand this? The church taught me that if I behaved like a good little girl, when I die, I would go to heaven to be with the angels and hop around on the fluffy white clouds in my halo. My dad taught me about the stars and their connections with our ancestors when he took me on night drives to the outskirts of Saskatoon, where the lights of the city faded away. My kookum taught us ghost stories about relatives who had died, and how they had come back to visit her bedside. She would tell us to watch out for her when she died because she was going pay us a visit before going to heaven. We would all erupt into laughter; to be honest, I believed that she would pay me a visit just so she could tease me one last time. Whenever my cousins, sisters or I found dead animals or butterflies, we always had a funeral procession and buried them. I’ve been told that the first funeral I attended was of a family friend of my mother’s side of the family, but I remember very little from that day.
I am raising my children with a very different understanding of death than what I was taught. My boys are being taught other ways of knowing that don’t include halos and fluffy clouds. Since we’ve moved to Alert Bay, we speak about death quite often with our children. We have to. Either because someone close to us has lost someone, or a child that they know in school has lost a parent, or we have found another dead animal on the beach. This is for real.
My boys found a dead crow yesterday while out walking on the beach. My four year old tried to pick it up and bring it home to me. Instead, I went down with my camera and took some photos and video of the dead bird. I then started filming my surrounds the ocean, trees, a tree swing, tension of a rope holding on tight to the land and a fire. I wanted to move away from the still image and work with moving images and decided to piece this brief moment in my life into a short video.
Images of the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School.
(before it was torn down last year)
I haven’t shown any of these images publicly prior to this blog post. Even though these rooms were empty, the residue of the past was still present. If these walls could talk they’d have a lot to share with us. I wasn’t quite sure how to show these in a respectful way because these photos are not meant to be liked and shared around on social media. I feel that Tea & Bannock is the safest place to do so. Plus with the Canada Day celebrations happening across the country on July 1st, I want people to remember that this country was founded on indigenous lands. Don’t forget that.