A Moment of Identity: Tikinagan Child

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**This was written almost a year after it happened, so my apologies for my faulty memory.   That said, this is the way I remember it …

I am late for dinner, having spent far too much time and money searching for right outfit for the following day.  I rush into the dimly light kitchen, breathless and apologetic.  The table is dwarfed by the number of people surrounding it, and yet chairs are pushed aside, making room for mine.  My brother’s wife has cooked a feast and there is still plenty for me.  She rests her hand on her swollen belly, and I feel incredibly guilty for not being here to help her cook for all of these people.  The conversation and laughter continues and I catch up with people I haven’t visited with in far too long.  My uncle sits at the far end of the table, picking up the story where he left off.  He is telling stories of adventure, of heroism, of lives larger than life.  Things that happened in the north, things that happened before I was born, when my parents first met.  My mother, his sister, young, quiet, naïve, proper, whole-heartedly committed to Christ, and a teacher, whose goal it was to teach Native children.  My father, a long-haired, vice-loving biker, hired by the government to work the weather station in the small, remote area of Ontario that is the setting for my uncle’s stories.  Because of them, the woman sitting across from me became my aunt.  With an unassuming presence, a hidden wisdom, and a ready smile, she alternately laughs and rolls her eyes at her husband’s stories.  Her thick, jet black hair has lightened some since I saw her last.  My cousins inherited the same beautiful black hair and warm brown complexion, and I was (and remain) very jealous of it. The second oldest of my cousins, interjects occasionally with an understated humour.  She speaks with a controlled voice and expression, and intelligence flashes behind her eyes. It is only because of the wit in her eyes that I can tell that she is joking, as it has always been.  My aunt’s brother, tall and quiet, sits back, wide grin on his face, arms crossed, his dark eyes holding an intense sense of observation rather than complete participation.  He is here for the same reason the rest of them are here.  He is here to honour my mother.

Two days ago, my mother passed away in her sleep.  She knew she was going to be with Jesus, and everyone who knew her, knew that this fact was the one thing in life that she was completely confident of.  Tomorrow is the beginning of the end of our goodbyes.  We will spend the day greeting people coming to pay their respects, to tell us of our mother’s influence in their lives, and to lend a shoulder and give a hug.

But right now, I am immersed in a deep sense of family, of history, and of a story much bigger than my own little plotline.  There is a scene in the movie Elizabethtown, in which the main character, Drew, steps into a world that belonged to his father; family and friends that knew his father so much better than he ever did.  He realizes that he knew his father as just that: his father.  But there were so many other facets to his life, so many other people, adventures and stories, and Drew comes to want to know each of them.  This is exactly how I feel in this moment.

So I take a mental snapshot.  I look at each face.  I look at the wrinkles and creases around each smile and each eye.  This is my family.  A meeting of cultures, the old and the new.  A people of impressive ancestry, original owners of the land this house sits on, and in fact, of all of the land in this brave country of ours.  A people increasingly pushed back onto smaller and smaller parcels of land, victim to the Imperialistic tendencies of the people of my ancestry.  And yet, we are a family, and we are here to honour my mother.

And I see her live on in the faces of my children.  My younger son, who prefers to go by the name Young Buffalo, is fascinated by longhouses, birch bark and his Native-inspired hairstyle.  My older son, with his love for science, and my daughter, who spent a good deal of her first 18 months being carried on either her father’s or my back, tikinagan-style.  And just as my family has passed on the stories and legends of my parents and grandparents to me, I will pass them on to my children.  My hope is that just like the precious treasure wrapped tightly in the safe warmth of a tikinagan,  the history of their combined families will provide a sense of security, a sense of strength and protection, and a sense of unquestionable identity.

Because I want to raise them as I was raised,

as a Tikinagan Child.

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