Many Native teachings talk about the importance of looking ahead to the unborn generations – usually seven – and what affect our lives will have on them and their offspring. One Eastmain family is lucky enough to be able to communicate between five generations, from a three-month-old newborn to their 93-year-old matriarch.
“My mother was born across the river from Eastmain on my grandfather’s trapline,” Denise Brown told the Nation. “I was born on the Labrador coast in a little place called Rigolet, Newfoundland.”
Denise, 35, works as the Community Employment Officer in Eastmain and is the middle child of five siblings. She is also in the middle of her families’ five living generations of women.
Great grandmother Daisy is the wisdom that holds the family together.
“I love my grandmother,” said Denise. “She’s a kind person and doesn’t say bad stuff about anybody. She’s always happy and has a good heart.”
“I remember when we used to visit I was always helping her doing traditional things. My other sisters didn’t want to clean or pluck geese. They didn’t want to do any of those things, but I still do that. My daughter Soleil does it now and my granddaughter will do it. It’s just keeping tradition alive. My grandmother gave us very good family values and she has a lot of spirit.”
Her mother is the efficient one.
“My mom is a tough old lady,” Denise said. “She’s a go-getter and she just gets stuff done so she can move on or celebrate or whatever. Then she can have more free time.”
Denise talked about her mother’s influence on her and her strength. “Family values have been passed down throughout our family. Not all residential school experiences are bad. It did affect her but she’s still a happy person today. She’s dealt with that time. I think the only thing she regrets from then is she didn’t get to spend time with her parents in the bush. She didn’t get to have a normal family life.
“Even though she never got that, we had a good family,” she continued. “She spent time with us and took care of us. She wasn’t a drinker and she never smoked. I had a great childhood.”
Back in Labrador, the Browns were the only Cree family in the area. Denise renewed her Cree links after moving to Eeyou Istchee six years ago.
“Over there it just seemed like we were by ourselves,” she said. “When I came home I was like, ‘Wow, these are my cousins.’ It gave me a really good sense of family and where I came from. The trials and tribulations of the Cree people really hit home and that I’m part of something bigger.”
Eighteen-year-old Soleil was born in Newfoundland and lived there until the age of 12. Getting back to her Cree roots and her home community was not an easy task at first.
“It was really hard leaving all my friends,” she said. “They all missed me and I missed them. It was actually pretty hard to make friends because they all spoke Cree and that was all they wanted to speak. But after while when I got to know them a bit better they started speaking some English.”
Soleil soon settled in and met Clayton, her boyfriend of two years. Three months ago little Riley was born. The influence the three older generations have had on both of them has been priceless.
“I’m going to teach her to respect others,” Soleil said of her newborn. “I’m hoping she gets a good education. And when she needs to be disciplined for doing bad things she will be, but for now she’s too young.”
Soleil says that she has picked up a little Cree, but still needs more practice. She communicates with her grandmother through her younger sister Tina, who is nine years old. “Or sometimes I’ll listen really carefully to understand what she says,” said Soleil.
“I look up to my mom because she’s so smart and beautiful, my grandma because she was the best cook. I really want to learn to cook like her because she’s so good. And my great grandma Daisy because she’s so nice. She’s always smiling every day. She’s never cranky and that’s what makes me happy.”
Her great grandfather recently passed away on January 23 and she was deeply affected. “I took it really hard because I really wanted him to see my child.”
To make matters worse, her sister was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and has undergone harsh chemotherapy treatment since late last year.
“Tina’s doing well,” said her mother, Denise. “Her doctor says the prognosis is very good and the treatment is going very well. She’s not through it yet but all the difficult parts are over and she’s starting to move back into normal life. Her hair is growing back too.”
The plan is to go on a family trip to Disneyland in California next February. “I really want her to enjoy it,” she said. “She’s still on medication that makes her tired all the time. We want to wait until she’s capable of remembering and enjoying and doing everything she can.”
Ethel, 55, knows the secret to her family’s perseverance and prosperity. “We do have strong qualities,” she said. “We’re hard workers.”
She made sure to instill qualities in her five children that would enable them to be good people.
“I taught them to be kind to everybody and to do the right thing. And I tried to make sure they got a good education because you won’t get anywhere if you don’t. We always tried to tell them that growing up.”
Ethel was a little wary of her young granddaughter getting pregnant, but she has grown to love the newest family addition.
“Once I saw the baby I was pretty happy. She’s so cute; I’m always picking her up. We always pass her around and I think we’re going to spoil her,” she giggled.
“Denise got a lot of help when she had Soleil. She was in her last year of high school so it was pretty hectic. Everybody took their turn to help her out and make sure she graduated from high school.”
Now she’s happy to be back among her community and family.
“It always felt good coming home,” said Denise. “We used to come back on a regular basis and I always enjoyed my time here in Eastmain.
“When I first came back in 2001. I felt like I was coming home. I felt like I finally got to a place where I belong and that I was meant to be here for the rest of m life. Labrador was nice and it was my childhood home, but this is my traditional home.”