– Are you Cree?
– Yes, I am.
– Where are you from?
– From Waswanipi. My mother is Jane Sagnash and my grandmother is Mary. Ghukum Mary.
– Ohhh…of course. I know Ghukum Mary!
Some of the Elders even tell me that they knew my grandfather. I feel pride when somebody tells me this, proud to be a limb in your family tree, and can’t help but smile back at them.
Those are words that I have exchanged with so many people, so many times across the territory from Whapmagoostui to Wemindji to Mistissini. When these people from elsewhere answer that they know you, I am always a little surprised. Some ask if you still do beadwork. Others ask if you still go out snaring for rabbit. How these people from other communities know these things about you, I don’t know. But, something tells me that you were quite the lady back in the day!
Actually, you still are quite the lady. Your eyes, they silently tell of many stories, laughter and joy, sadness and love. Your hands are my favourite thing to look at. I know you have never heard this from me before, but they are. I look at them, at the perfect lines that time has brought to them, and I wonder how many slippers and mittens you have made to keep us warm, how many rabbits you have prepared for supper, how many times you reached into a tree to pick the perfect boughs for us to sit in with those hands. A single simple ring proudly wrapped around your wedding finger shows the world that you have once upon a time had a great love story of your own and that you are still spoken for. It is the most beautiful wedding ring I have ever seen.
There are so many questions I would like to ask you. So many stories I wish I could hear from you. But, since we cannot speak together as I wish we could, I am happy to just be with you when I visit. Happy to just watch you digging around in your box of beads and needles trying to make the difference between a blue bead and a purple one in the sunlight of your kitchen window. Happy to smell that a moose stew or rabbit is slowly cooking on the stove or that bannock just came out of the oven as I walk into your home. I know you wish that we could talk together too. I’m sure we would talk right into the night if we could! But, even if you don’t say anything, I can feel your prayers as I leave your house to continue my journey to the next community. I would like to say thank you for those prayers. They have kept me safe on the roads.
Ghukum, you are a beautiful person with a heart as big as a bull moose! Your unconditional love for this whole family is something we all treasure. I love you with all my heart. Happy 80th Birthday!