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Joy & heartbreak: Life as an Indigenous mother

CWA Canada commissioned this article in recognition and celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day, which coincides with the summer solstice, a day that holds cultural significance in many aboriginal cultures.

By Carol Rose GoldenEagle

HIRAETH (n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return [Welsh]

I remember someone asking once: If you could go back in time, what moment would you revisit?

That has an easy answer for me.

I have been blessed with three children, each of them now grown and in their mid-20s. But, from the time they were infants until teenagers, our night-time routine was the same.

I’d read to them.

Each of my children tucked in near me so they could see the illustrations, and eager to hear the words. I really believe that reading to them every day is the reason they are all avid readers today. Each now flourishes in their post-secondary studies. We have done well as a family.

It’s why we were all in shock when hearing the news about an unmarked burial ground with the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Something like that would have destroyed me.

First, to have children apprehended. Later, to never see them again, and never be told what had happened.

The news from Kamloops broke our hearts, but also gave me pause for gratitude.

I raised my children. But, I clearly remember a day when that was threatened.

When I found myself pregnant with my first son, Jackson, in 1995, I was a single woman. It was a time of joy for me, as I promised to nurture him, teach him and do everything to the exact opposite of what I was given as a child.

Living with a foster family,  I was left to wander when I was a child. Every day at school, there was name-calling, racism and kids were always wanting to punch me.

I was a child of the 1960s scoop. Thousands of Indigenous children were taken from our homes, family, culture, language.

When I was born, taking children away was called the scoop. But it’s clear to me that the practice still happens today.

The system still lurks.

I know, because I fear it almost happened to me. When my son was born, I was single. I am Indigenous. The system considered those factors high risk. I say this because a month after my Jackson was born, two social workers showed up at the place where I was living.

They called the visit “routine,” saying that “all new parents” have this type of visitation. So, I asked around and found out that’s not true. Not “all” new parents have strangers with clipboards come into their home, to check the pantry and the fridge, to check on sleeping arrangements.

I felt like I was being interrogated.

But as I said, I have been blessed.

At the time, I was living with a dear friend, Bev Jackson, who said ‘Come and stay until you figure things out’. Her home was lovely. Her heart even more so.

I didn’t have family.

When my Jackson was born, there was no celebration, except for Bev, who accepted my child as her own godson. Someone who loves from the soul.

Bev wasn’t there when the social workers arrived. But what was in that home was peace, stability and a great supply of formula for my Jackson. It was a safe neighbourhood and a grand home from where I would re-start a new life as a mother.

Bev is not Indigenous. She is not related to me by blood, but heart strings are stronger. She is one of those beautiful souls who offered help in a time of need.

Those social workers did not take my baby that day. I have my friend Bev to thank for that. It was love that saved the day, and my life. The social workers left because I had presented a safe environment.

I can never allow myself to think what might have happened had my friend Bev not opened her home to us, in those early days.

I can’t imagine the anguish of those parents who had their children robbed from their lives, and taken off to Residential School or as a part of the 1960s scoop.

Genocide. Call it by its name.

I was listening to CBC Radio when I first heard the news about the discovery in Kamloops. I spent the day crying.

Mostly because I know there are still Indigenous families, even today, who still have their children apprehended.

It would be an unwritten policy, but I fear that being single and Indigenous is still the reason social workers with clipboards show up, to “check” on a new mom.

It’s that very rationale which disconnected me from my Cree roots, in northern Saskatchewan. My biological mother was not married, so the system took me away, calling her unfit because she was single.

She was a registered nurse. I never met her. But I have a photo of her in my writing room. I didn’t meet my Cree family until I was in my mid-30s. That’s when the Government of Saskatchewan opened the adoption records. People who knew my mother, before she passed, say that she never recovered from having me taken away. They told me that, sometimes she’d just burst out crying for no apparent reason.

But now that I have my own children, I know why she wept.

She carried me for nine months, but after those first few moments, after being born, she never saw me again.

Some hearts never heal.

Like the families of the 215.

I cry tears of sorrow for what they’ve gone through. I pray they somehow find peace.

But each day, I also cry tears of gratitude. I raised my three children. For this, I say to Creator,

hiy, hiy – thank you.

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