Old photos create a spark
Well, this summer is wrapping up nicely as I am writing this, and both Wawatay and SEVEN readers will be heading back to class. Some of you may be returning to the same familiar school, or enrolling for the first time into secondary or post-secondary education.
My advice to returning and new students: enjoy your time in school. It’s a swell place to learn and grow, and also a great chance to really find your self. Don’t take your classmates for granted because the friends you have now may not be in your future as everyone chooses their own paths after graduation.
I sometimes still wonder if I am on the right path. Sometimes I feel as thought I have lost something along the way, or even that I am headed in the wrong direction.
I looked to my past not too long ago to try to understand how I came to be here – why I am the way I am? I felt like I needed answers for what happened in my life, and in the lives of those around me because I was starting to feel lost.
I tried to retrace my steps. I asked questions about the past; questions nobody seemed to want to answer.
I wanted to know why my parents did not speak their language, and why I wasn’t allowed to make dream catchers in Ojibway class as a young student in Red Lake, ON. I wanted to know why I knew so little about my culture.
I realized it really wasn’t my parents’ fault, and that something was taken from my grandparents while they were in the residential school system as young children.
I became angry and upset thinking about it.
I started searching my paternal grandfather’s name online. I searched the schools that he went to. For some reason I felt like he was the key; that he was the answer to everything that was bad in my life and my entire family’s life. I have since drifted apart from my paternal grandfather.
I’m not mad at him, but I needed to see proof that he was actually in residential school. I needed to see his name on a document.
I wanted to know who it was who hurt him, who it was who managed to hurt three generations of his family from then on. Since nobody really liked to talk about it or was able to talk about it, I needed to find out for myself.
Eventually, I found his photo on a residential school research website.
He was probably in his early teen years in the Pelican Lake Residential School hockey team photo.
I felt sad because even though all of the other kids on that hockey team were smiling, my grandfather wasn’t. His eyes looked so dark, and his face was solemn.
I learned he was previously placed in McIntosh Residential School near Vermillion Bay, so I searched the website’s files on the school. I thought that maybe I could find him in photos there and maybe I could see him smiling as a young child.
Maybe I could see a light in his eyes and it would make me feel better.
I searched through all of the photos and the names, but I didn’t find him.
I found someone else instead.
Once again I found a photo of a hockey team, but this time it was another familiar face that stared up back at me. Located in the center, kneeling in goalie equipment with a bit of a smirk on his face was my other grandfather. My Shoom.
My eyes welled up with tears staring at his young face, but they weren’t sad tears.
I have always been very close to my Shoom. Sure he had his share of problems in life, but he was always kind to me. He was always honest, he was always funny, and he still is to this day.
I realized that even though bad things had happened in the past, there is still a lot of good things left. There are a lot of good things worth carrying on for.
I know there were certain paths my grandparents took, and I feel that they were taken for a reason because eventually the paths connected to help form the one I am on now, the one my family is on now. Had just one of them chosen a different path, I doubt my family would be here today.
I took some photos of my son holding up my grandfather’s hockey photo and I submitted them to an art gallery in Ottawa that was looking for photos and artwork to display in an upcoming exhibit called Nigi Mikàn I found it: Indigenous women’s identity.
My son’s photos were one of 10 pieces of work that were selected out of the whole of Canada to be on display in the exhibit.
It meant so much to me, and it reminded me that I have to keep going with what I found on this path, not only for myself but also for my family.
I hope you all keep going, too.
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