In an editorial I came across in The Nation, Will Nicholls wrote about yin and yang, positive and negative energies, and the male and female in us all. As human beings, we are all faced with the positive and negative every day of our lives and our test is to walk in balance between them. Our goal should be to create as much positive energy around us so that we affect people in a good way. Even though we must deal with the negative that comes our way, we ourselves should try not to create any negative energies that will hurt or destroy others.

One person who created nothing but positive energy around her was the late Gracie Herodier Orr. My first vivid memory of her goes back to when I was very young. I remember hearing the adults say she was “going crazy” and she was going to die.

Those were the days before regular plane service, before vehicles, before white doctors. There was only a small hospital run by the Catholic mission on the island of Fort George at the time and Gracie was taken care of by the nuns until a bush plane arrived to take her away to the nearest hospital in Moose Factory. I remember her being carried on a make-shift stretcher down to the plane, all wrapped and tied up as if in a straight jacket.

Years later she told me that she had spinal meningitis and that it had been a hard struggle to survive. She must have been physically strong and healthy otherwise to survive such a disease in those days.

Later on in her life, she overcame another life-threatening disease. She was working as a student counselor at the school in Chisasibi when she had a heart attack. She underwent open-heart surgery and returned to work shortly thereafter. However, it was another disease, cancer, that finally claimed her life almost two years ago.

Gracie certainly had her share of negative experiences during her life. Not only did she have to overcome life-threatening diseases, but also she had to face all the blame and malicious gossip when her marriage broke up. Throughout it all, she remained strong spiritually, dealing with these negatives in a positive manner.

Gracie was a gentle person; she had all of the traits that her name implies. She was gracious, graceful, kind, compassionate, thoughtful and generous. She helped the community in different ways. She did exquisite beadwork and sewed beautifully so she was often asked to make things for big events such as weddings. Working full time, she also spent endless hours working for the community.

More often than not, she did not get paid for all of the work she

had done, but she never complained. She just kept accepting the requests that kept coming in.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, I used to visit her whenever I was in Chisasibi (I was working in Mistissini at the time). It never failed to amaze me that her house seemed so normal and inviting. There was never any sense of gloom and doom, just her and her family going about as “normally” as possible.

One night, about six months before she died, I dreamt about the design on the moccasins that my daughter would wear as part of her fancy shawl pow-wow regalia. In the dream I was told that Gracie would do the beading. I did not tell her about the dream for a long time because I did not want her to feel obligated into doing the beading.

One afternoon she talked about her impending death and her concerns for her children. She talked about some dreams she had had that had made her accept death without any fear. I told her about the dream of the moccasin design. She asked me to show her the design and then she offered to do the beading. I protested but she insisted.

“Dreams are very powerful,” she said. “You have to do what they tell you to do and I will do what your dream showed you. All I ask is that you cut out the moosehide because I am too weak to do that now.”

After the beading was done, I took my daughter over to thank Gracie personally and to pay Gracie for her time. Gracie was overwhelmed. “I didn’t expect this,” she cried. “Hardly anybody pays me for work I do.” Although I already knew this, it was the only time she mentioned being asked to make things without any payment in return.

When Gracie told me that she was no longer able to digest food other than fish and spruce grouse or ptarmigan, I tried to find these for her and I would take them over to her whenever I was in town. Each time, she would cry a little and thank me over and over again for being so kind. I was trying to show my appreciation for all the kind things she had done for me, but she was not used to people showing their thanks for the many, many little and big things she had done for them. It was sad.

My daughter wore her moccasins for the first time nine months after Gracie died. She had told Gracie that the first dance would be for her and Gracie had cried over that. A few days before she died, she told me that she had been so touched that she could not say anything; she could only offer my daughter a big hug and kiss. She thought it was such an honour to have the first dance dedicated to her and to thank my daughter for being so kind. It was Gracie who had been so kind to us and who had honoured us with her involvement in our lives.

On the night of her death, I was in Mistissini. I was exhausted from endless hours of working and traveling and I had gone to bed around 8:30 p.m. I had a very vivid dream about crossing over into the spirit world. A huge crowd of Cree youth were milling around near the border between the spirit and the physical worlds. At the border stood a spirit in a cloak and hood, like a sentry. As I crossed over, I noticed that the colours in the spirit world were so bright and vibrant. When I returned to the physical world, I was clutching something in my fists and I released this “food” into the crowd of young Crees. I made this trip back and forth three times. On the third trip I knew I could not go back again; otherwise, I would not be able to return to the physical world. I woke up and I noted the time. I later found out it was the exact time that Gracie had died.

It was late fall when she died. I attended the funeral and after the coffin had been lowered into the ground, a huge rainbow appeared in the east even though it was a miserably cold day and no rain had fallen anywhere that day. The rainbow signified to me the way she had lived her life, casting beautiful positive energies wherever she went and making this world bright and colourful for others. She was a true master of balancing yin and yang, walking in balance throughout her life. I am honoured to have known her.