Anishnawbe for “Thank you, Mom”
Here is another story (part 2 of 2) taken from Ningwakwe Learning Press’ collection of stories, “Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing,” that highlights the joys and pain of love and how it influences every aspect of our lives – including lifelong learning. This story focuses on the love for a mother and inspiration for a lifelong path of learning and teaching.
Eventually, I left teaching for a while. While I came alive in the classroom with the kids, I was struggling with some personal issues. I had an experience with alcohol that almost cost me my Life. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. I became a single parent and at one time held down three jobs to take care of my children. Shades of Amazing Grace! I am so grateful that she taught me to love Creator/God and I turned there for the strength to put my Life back together.
It was because of Amazing Grace that I got a job at Pedahbun Lodge. There I counselled Aboriginal people who had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. At that time Amazing Grace was looking for help for her own struggle with alcohol. I did some research and found out about Pedahbun. I felt I could relate to the residents as they appeared outwardly happy but were struggling with issues of self. My year and a half there was very healing for me. It was a great journey in Aboriginal spiritual traditions, as I had to do the cross-cultural awareness sessions. We read from the Mishomis Book, had Elders come in to do teachings and we went to ceremonies. I began to understand that my earlier struggle was based on the need for a positive cultural identity- to love myself as an Aboriginal woman. I better understood how my mother seemed to lack self-confidence in certain situations, especially where non-Aboriginal people were dominant.
While I was there, somebody told me about a teaching position at Wanepuhnud, an off-site program of George Brown College. I went for the interview and got the job. I began to work with sixteen Aboriginal women getting them job-ready. I instinctively knew from my own experience at Pedahbun that helping the women to learn more about Aboriginal culture would make a difference. It would facilitate them learning to love themselves as Aboriginal People. At that time there was no culture-based curriculum. Because of Amazing Grace’s work ethic, I had no problem burning the midnight oil and developing my own. I submitted monthly reports to the Board of Directors. One of them was so impressed with the approach that I was taking, that when funding came through for a literacy program at the Native Women’s Resource Centre, she recommended that I get the job.
In April 1987, I began my journey of love with Aboriginal Literacy. The literacy coordinator at Council Fire Cultural Centre and I developed tutor training and recruited learners. Within a year, the position of Provincial Coordinator within the Ontario government became available. Initially, I thought the job was over my head but the Senior Manager of the Literacy Unit phoned me at home and encouraged me to apply. In the interview, I spoke of my own experiences with helping myself and helping others to love themselves as Aboriginal people. I was offered the job! Following Amazing Grace’s example, I turned to the Creator for guidance. Amidst some doubts and fears I started in May 1988. This position took me all across Ontario, visiting programs on and off reserve. I learned that there were many of us trying to help people learn how to love themselves and how to make learning fun!
One of those trips was to the Gathering of the Three Fires Confederacy in Garden River. Who was there? My mother! It was a powerful experience for the two of us to be learning more about our culture together. We even danced side-by-side in the Inter-Tribal! Thus began a few years of learning to love ourselves for who we were as Aboriginal women. We went to Aboriginal Women and Wellness conferences. We sat in teachings on our reserve.
In 1996, Amazing Grace’s health started to become an issue. It was only natural that this woman who had given so much to us should get some of that back. She was open to whatever we suggested to her – healers, shiatsu, acupuncture, herbal remedies. She was the talk of our reserve as people witnessed her turn around from an illness that had her home-ridden, to a state where she was able to go back out to community events. Some of the family and community even tried her shiatsu and acupuncture therapist- with good results! I was struck by how she maintained a positive attitude through all the pain that she was experiencing, even smiling when it must have been hard to do. She did not take out her discomfort on others. She often spoke of belief and a trust in Creator/God.
In 1997 I began my journey in literacy at the national level. The loving energy received from coordinators province-wide and the ideas that I had the privilege of cross-pollinating, were the basis of a book about literacy programming in Ontario, Empowering the Spirit. I was now asked to do something on an inter-provincial scale. That put me in a meeting with Aboriginal literacy practitioners from across Canada, where I was offered another contract on the national scene. While it was challenging, it was also invigorating and gave me the opportunity to work out of my own home.
Eventually, Amazing Grace’s body started to weaken with all the medications and symptoms she was experiencing. On Mother’s Day, May 2002, she announced to the family that she was “leaving” soon and that there was nothing anybody could do about it. She said that she could not describe the feeling in her body that gave her the “knowing” that her time was coming.
With love, we rallied around her and did our best to make her last days with us as comfortable as possible. We are so grateful that we had almost four years. In that time, we spent hours listening to her as she recounted memories and taking her out on whatever trips she requested. We heard about family connections and community history. I am so grateful that Amazing Grace’s example of a strong work ethic, and the values that she instilled in us, made it possible for me to have a job where I could work from anywhere. This meant I could go to the reserve regularly, and spend that time with her. I am eternally grateful that I got to know my mom on a much deeper level during those precious times.
Amazing Grace started arranging family get-togethers, encouraging people to come even if they did not get along with somebody who would be there. These get-togethers became a tradition that we started to anticipate. On January 16, 2006 my very humble mother, who asked very little for herself and preferred not to be in the spotlight, threw her own 83rd birthday party. Eleven days later she went into the hospital for the last time. A week later, she left for the Spirit World. It was as though she knew.
There was standing room only at her funeral. People came with so many food donations that we had to give a lot of it away to the Women’s Shelter and the Elders Complex. The loving, graceful manner that she had with us she gave to the community as well.
The family get-togethers spawned a pulling together that stood us in good stead as we experienced four family members passing into the Spirit World in a seventeen-month period. In the middle of it all, it appeared that there might be another one. Somehow the loving energy that began with Amazing Grace had its effect. We rallied around my brother and were able to hold onto him – resulting in a much stronger bond amongst us all. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and the example she set for us. She taught us life giving values and behaviours that no textbook could have done. Amazing Grace was a living textbook of Love! Gichi Miigwech, Gushi!
Ningwakwe George is an Anishnawbe from the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. “This submission came about as a result of my healing process following my mother’s departure for the Spirit World. In June 2007, my home community invited me to be their guest speaker at the Annual Education Awards. In this presentation, I attributed everything that I have learned and become to the teachings and example of my mother. This story gave me the opportunity to put it into writing.”