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A Legacy of Kindness

Thursday January 9, 2014

There are many people I have known throughout my life that have had a positive influence on me. Some have affected me in ways I never really understood until recently.

I learned from my family recently that I lost my uncle Elie Paulmartin, who passed away in Timmins surrounded by his family and extended relations from northern Ontario and the James Bay coast. He comes from a generation from my family and community that are the last to have seen the traditional nomadic lifestyle. He spoke fluent Cree and although he understood English, he preferred to converse in his Native language.

Elie was born and raised on the Nawashi River, a small tributary in the southern portion of Polar Bear Provincial Park in northern Ontario on the James Bay coast. His family had inhabited the area for generations. It was a river that they fished, trapped and hunted on all their lives. It was their lifeblood.

I can remember one spring hunting trip in the north with my Kookoom (grandmother) Louise Paulmartin. We spent time on Nawashi River for two weeks while the geese flocked in majestic displays of migration. We passed this time on Nawashi as an opportunity for our Kookoom to visit her homeland where she had learned the traditional way of living from the quiet, hard working Paulmartin family. As an orphan, she married Xavier Paulmartin at the young age of 16 and spent many years on the Nawashi River. On the river she raised a family of her own, including her son Elie, my mom Susan, Josephine, Cecile, Gabriel, John, Mary and Theresa.

I took Kookoom on snowmobile rides along the Nawashi River. She took every opportunity to study where she grew up and raised her children. At times near the opening of the winding river, she reminisced about what life was like back then. The trees and bushes had changed but the lines of the river and the banks remained the same and she could point out where each of her children were born, including Elie. She described a world where life was difficult.

However, they were surrounded by a large extended family of parents, grandparents and their children which made life manageable. Kookoom was able to raise her own children with her husband Xavier Paulmartin and the help of her in-laws, the Paulmartin clan.

Elie had all the great characteristics of the Paulmartins. He was a big man who knew how to work hard and understood what life meant in the wilderness. However, like all the Paulmartin men, Elie had a way of living his life in a quiet, kind and gentle way. He knew all the skills needed to survive on the land.

Elie lived in the north for most of his early life but in later years, he decided to raise his family in Timmins with his wife Martha to provide a more worldly view to his children. I was fortunate to have them in the city when I attended secondary school in Timmins. When I visited Elie’s home I always went away with life lessons in kindness, patience and good warmheartedness. It was a blessing to be able to enter Elie’s world with a visit to his home where we spoke in our Native language and I benefited by the stories and good humour that he shared. It was just comforting to listen to them talk about their past lives and they showed me that life was always about understanding that no matter how dark things got the sun would shine through in good time.

Martha brought a lot of joy and excitement into Elieís life. She has always been a spontaneous person who enjoys laughing and having fun with others. That was part of the spirit of meeting with Elie and Martha. They were a perfect fit and I could feel the sense of love and attachment they shared whenever I stepped into their home.

As the years passed, I became more and more acquainted with Elie and Martha’s children. My cousins were all so wonderful because they had been raised by such dedicated parents. They included George Paulmartin, Gerty Wheesk, Dennis Rose, Paulmartin, Shirley Degrechie, Christopher Paulmartin, Carey Rose and Meagan Paulmartin. They all went on to give Elie and Martha the joy of having many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I know that is always so difficult for a family to lose a loved one around the Christmas holidays but it makes me feel better to realize that in the new year, Martha will be able to sit with her grandchildren and see Elie in each one of their faces.

Elie gave me a gift I never fully appreciated until later in life. He taught me that no matter what may happen in this world or this life, we should always treat others with kindness and patience. Whenever I have a quiet moment now, I think of those strong Paulmartin men like Elie and others before him. Chi-Meegwetch, Nookoomis (Thank you, my uncle).

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