For a gift recently, I offered to take my Mom and Dad on a trip anywhere in Ontario. To my surprise they did not choose Toronto or Niagara Falls but were set on going to Thunder Bay. My dad Marius and my mom Susan and my friend Mike and I headed out for week-long road tour with no real plans.
Mom and dad entertained us with stories along our way and I was amazed at the number of names of towns, rivers and lakes that they pointed out along our way as Cree or Ojibway words and they translated them for us. For example did you know that the word Opasatika, which is the name of a small town near Kapuskasing, sounds a lot like the Cree word Opas-sa-ti-s-kow which means place of many poplar trees. There were so many places along the way that by name are linked to the time when the Native people roamed freely all over this land. It was a real education and kind of like having two Cree historical databases in the back seat as we drove along the ribbon of pavement that cut through the rugged north country.
Once in Thunder Bay, my parents like all of the Cree people I know, wanted to visit family and friends. Once again I was reminded of the openness, the kindness and the warmth Native people extend in greeting others. I had the good fortune to meet my uncle Gabriel Paulmartin and his creative and spirited wife Merle. Gabriel is originally from Nawashi, which is 120 km north of Attawapiskat. He also lived in Attawapiskat, so there were lots of old times to revisit.
Many people from up the James Bay coast are living in the Thunder Bay area. We were happy to spend some time with Joe Wheesk and his wife and family. Joe, who was born and raised in Attawapiskat now works in Thunder Bay for a prestigious First Nations
organization as a researcher. It wasn’t long before mom and dad were getting reacquainted with old friends and family like Elizabeth Achneepineskum who is also working for First Nations people.
Perhaps our most rewarding visit occurred when we dropped in to see Mary Rose Paulmartin at a local hospital. Although, she had been ill recently, Mary Rose was excited to see mom and dad. She was also born and raised in Nawashi and lived up the coast for most of her life. Mary Rose is special to my mom and dad and to many people back in Attawapiskat. She had been confined to a wheelchair most of her life but manages through her strength and spirituality to bring sunshine into the lives of others. From her early days she had to struggle to survive and she was always very independent and resourceful. Meeting Mary Rose was a motivating experience for me and made me feel that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
On our return home from Thunder Bay we stopped in a little First Nation community to visit with Mary Achneepineskum and her husband Martin. This was a real treat for my dad as this was the first time he had ever seen his aunt Mary. When we entered their home we found Mary busy in the living room making a pair of moose hide mitts. She was surrounded by all types of craft supplies. We all took some time to admire her fine work. Martin is also a Native crafts person who specializes in handmade snowshoes, tikinaguns or cradleboards and beautiful hand held drums.
It was good to spend so much quality time with my parents and I learned a lot on this journey through the northland.