I never got the chance to thank my grandmother
A love letter to the woman who taught me resilience
As an Indigenous journalism student, I constantly feel like I have to save the world. I have to save my people and I have to save my sisters. I need to organize rallies. I need to educate everyone on this country’s horrific past and present. I need to scream from the rooftops about all the injustices my people have had to face. I’ve always felt that if I just scream loud enough, someone has to hear me but as I get older, I’ve noticed my voice is starting to give out.
I originally chose to study journalism to highlight the beauty of my culture. I had never seen my people in the media that truly showcased who we are. All we really had when I was a kid was Disney’s
and Cher in a headdress. My grandmother worked for the Indigenous newspaper—Turtle Island News—and it wasn’t until she brought my seven-year-old self along to cover an Indigenous convention, that I saw my culture featured front and centre. I knew I wanted to do for my people what my grandmother did, even as a little girl. But now as a journalism student, I’ve realized that people are more interested in Indigenous suffering than anything else.
I’ve sat through class after class detailing the abhorrent realities of residential schools and I always found myself leaving the class feeling bitter. Of course, there’s a sense of relief that this information was reaching more people, but I always felt angry that these horrors were new information to so many. I know my Elders did not keep their experiences locked away.
It seems as though it was only when the first 215 unmarked graves were discovered at the Kamloops residential school that the general public started to take my people’s suffering seriously. Again, I was frustrated that it took this long for people to hear Indigenous accounts, but I hoped it would spark some real change. Ultimately, the final resting places of my people’s children became a topic for dinner conversation. Every custom t-shirt store I passed had an orange shirt while the total number of unmarked graves continues to climb as more former residential schools are investigated—with 66 being found just earlier this year in B.C.. Not to mention the residential school system’s colonial legacy still roars on in the child welfare circuit.
I am tired of my people’s trauma becoming no more than a public spectacle.
I often wonder what trendy t-shirt design would render my missing and murdered sisters worthy enough to catalyze action. Maybe if one of the Hadid sisters sported a red handprint across their mouths, my Indigenous sisters would be worthy of protection.
I can’t help but feel defeated when I think of the ongoing tragedies of our stolen women. Fearing for your safety when you walk out the door is not a foreign concept for women but my Indigenous sisters are forced to accept a certain nihilism knowing they’re more than five times as likely to be victims of homicide than non-Indigenous women, according to a 2021 report by Statistics Canada. Additionally, data from a 2015 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that Indigenous women make up 10 per cent of the total number of Canadian missing women, despite only representing five per cent of the Canadian female population as of 2022.
As angry and heartbroken as I am for my community, I am constantly astounded by the resiliency and the unfailing Indigenous joy.
My grandmother and her two sisters were affected by the Sixties Scoop. The sixties Scoop refers to a period from the 1960s to the mid-80s when the Canadian government weaponized the child welfare system to serve as another mechanism to take inordinate amounts of Indigenous children from their families. A report by the Community Panel Child Protection Legislation Review in British Columbia notes that child welfare workers looked for any reason to take these children— often without notifying their families —to place them with white families where many faced unspeakable abuse.
I know the horror stories of their foster families, but every time I hear them, I weep. My grandmother passed away 11 years ago after a short battle with cancer expedited by medical negligence. Her experience with the Canadian healthcare system is not unique to her and continues to affect Indigenous women today. Most notably, the death of Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan, who was mocked, sedated and restrained alone in a Quebec hospital room when she died, is another example of this injustice.
But when my grandmother was here, she was the most fantastic woman. She grew up under constant fear and unfamiliarity but did not let those circumstances define her. She made it her duty to love her grandchildren with everything she had—and she did not have much—but my cousins and I were none the wiser. She went back to school at 50 to earn her journalism degree to prove to herself and us kids that we could be and do anything we wanted to. She always instilled that mentality in us because no one did it for her.
So when I get really discouraged, I think of my grandmother and all the Indigenous women just like her who wake up every day and choose to love their families and communities despite whatever disparities lay behind them and beyond them.
I do what I do for them.