Honouring our Mothers: Three Crees talk about the women who influenced them the most

Share Button

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, several Eeyouch spoke to the Nation about the first women they ever knew – their own mothers.

Tina Petawabano, Betty Anne Forward and Samson Wischee shared their mothers’ life lessons, talked about the maternal support they had while growing up and about the anguish felt over seeing a mother’s health decline.

Tina Petawabano

Three generations of the Petawabano family.

Three generations of the Petawabano family.

Eastmain’s Tina Petawabano, a mother with a prolific career, is the director of Quebec Relations Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the Cree Regional Authority. She spoke about her mother, Bella Petawabano, the Chair of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, and shared some childhood memories.

I just wanted to talk about how lucky I am to have my mom. There is just so much that she had done for our family and for her community.

One of the most important things that I learned from her was just how to follow your goals and your dreams.

My mother was once a young Eeyou from Eastmain who really did everything outside of the traditional norms. While most would stay home and raise a family, she did that for a while but then decided to come south to Montreal to pursue a Social Work degree at McGill University. She got her BA while having her three young kids with her during the early 1980s, moving us from Mistissini to the city.

I remember how hard she worked and this triggered something in me to understand that whatever you want to do in life, it is going to take a lot of hard work, perseverance and sacrifice.

At the time the three of us girls were all under 10, with the youngest in daycare and the older two in elementary school. It was an adjustment and a big shock. With bigger schools and things like public transportation and people everywhere, it all was just so fast but she managed to make it a really smooth transition despite this. She made an incredible effort to ensure that we were okay and comfortable.

One thing I do remember, and my sister Lisa is going to kill me for saying this, is that she, the middle child who was six at the time, had more of a struggle adapting to city life and so she decided to go on a hunger strike in order to go home to Mistissini.

At the time we lived north of Snowdon and that was where our school was, while my mother went to McGill downtown and commuted via métro.

My mother came to our school every day at lunchtime, commuting back to our neighbourhood for the entire first week and a half of school just to make sure that Lisa ate her lunch and then would go back downtown to McGill. If she didn’t do this, Lisa wouldn’t eat. As I was a bit older, I didn’t have the same lunch period so I couldn’t sit with her and that made the shock even worse for her as it was such a big school, she couldn’t see me either.

But then Lisa found friends and was okay.

Looking back at how hard my mother worked, I remember her typewriter as there were no computers back in those days. Because my room was right next to hers and her desk just happened to be exactly where my bed was on the other side of the wall. Every day at around 5 am I would start hearing click, click, click, bing.

We didn’t have much money in those days but those were some of our best years as a family. My father could only visit every other weekend as he worked in Val d’Or, but he was there as often as he could. My mother managed the three of us and school full-time, but the fact that we did things together and worked really hard was great because there was nothing material about it.

Even in the later years when I went away to school, my mother would send me cards and always write “I will persist until I succeed” – the message is to keep trying until you get there. This is something that still resonates with me when I set a goal for myself.

My mother was the type who didn’t compliment people a lot, so when she did it was meaningful. At her graduation supper, she told the guests that she couldn’t have done it without her daughter. I couldn’t believe that she said this because I always thought that I was such a brat.

She explained that the help I gave with my sisters and just making sure that they had something as simple as their snacks after school or making sure that we were doing our homework meant a lot.

I guess we all helped each other to achieve.

Betty Anne Forward

Betty Anne Forward had the chance to honour her mother at the Mistissini Native Women's Association annual Live Love Laugh Gala

Betty Anne Forward had the chance to honour her mother at the Mistissini Native Women’s Association annual Live Love Laugh Gala

Mistissini high-school teacher Betty Anne Forward’s mother Georgina recently retired after 37 years of touching the lives of many students and becoming one of the community’s most treasured educators.

In honour of her mother’s retirement, Forward spoke about her own journey in education with her mother as a guide.

I became a teacher because of my mother. She was probably the biggest influence on me becoming a teacher.

When I first went to college I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had always leaned towards something in English or writing, but after one year I felt like I still had no idea so I took some time off.

I came back to Mistissini and my mom informed me that the local school was looking for substitute teachers and to try it out. From there I got full-time replacement contracts with the elementary school and then the high school. I really liked working at the high school.

It was then that my mother and the principal asked me if I was going to go back and get my degree. While I had started the teacher-training program in Mistissini, as I was unmarried and didn’t have a family at the time, I wound up going to McGill University to do my education degree.

My mother was always an elementary school teacher and she always made it look like so much fun. She would sing with her students and with anything she taught them, there would always be a lot of hands-on activities and art projects.

In university you finish your semesters in April and I would come home and help her with her class to do colourful bulletin boards, decorating her classroom and the doors and I just loved helping her with that. This is something that I still do now in my own classroom. Even though I teach Secondary 3-4, they still love this and I get a lot of compliments.

My mom told me that it never matters what age the kids are, they all want to come in and have fun while learning. This is something that I learned from her as well as to be organized and plan ahead. She also stressed the need to be professional at all times.

After 37 years of teaching, she probably remembers every single student of hers, having taught multiple generations of the same families.

When it came time for her to retire, she was just really sad to leave. Though she is enjoying her retirement, she suffered badly over the past year with arthritis and so she just couldn’t teach anymore. It was tough because the kids would see her at the store and ask when she was coming back.

I would like to thank my mom for teaching me the value of hard work, for teaching me to be appreciative of not just the big things but also the little things in life, for always being there for me through the good and not so good times, and for always believing in me.

Samson Wischee

The Wischee family welcomes Ruby.

The Wischee family welcomes Ruby.

Hailing from Waskaganish, Samson Wischee shares his highs and lows over the past few months as his mother struggled with her health and talks about how his family has coped.

It started in January when my sister took my mom, Ruby Wischee, 65, to the clinic to get a check up because she is a larger woman, diabetic and had a boil on her lower back from sitting for too long on a trip. It just seemed to be getting worse and worse. She was medivaced to Val-d’Or that evening because the boil had become infected and the infection ran pretty deep.

She needed surgery, which she got. But we were told by her doctors that had she waited another 24 hours we would have lost her.

And then they told us that there was a second infection that would also require surgery

Before that she travelled a lot to attend gospel meetings and singing so this was very surprising to us and, used to her always being there, having her away from home has been very difficult. We were so used to her calling us over for lunch or supper to eat moose meat or rabbit in her very homey house.

She has been gone for months, from January until now (late April). For three months in Val-d’Or, before being transferred to Chisasibi for the last stage of her recovery. As she is a diabetic, we don’t know how long that will be.

But I got to see her a lot over the last few months as I am on the road a lot for work as a local commissioner for the Cree School Board and the manager of our youth centre.

Every time I traveled I would leave earlier so that I could stop in Val-d’Or for a few hours and visit or schedule it so that I could see her after 6 pm, once they had finished changing her dressings. I would often get to Montreal at 2 am or 3 am for my 8 am meeting.

My sister Gloria, on the other hand, stayed in Val-d’Or at the Friendship Centre over two months.

Because of the infection my kids weren’t able to visit her in her room. They didn’t see her for two-and-a-half months and we had to have her birthday in her room this past winter. For this my daughter Zion, who is four, made her an artificial plant arrangement, with “Happy Birthday, Goog,” on it as Zion calls her, short for Goo Goo. This name is something that my mother really likes.

When the nurses saw this they all started to call her Goog as did everyone else in the hospital. While this didn’t make up for my daughter’s absence, it did have an impact on my mother and carried her while she was in that room.

For almost two months I was pretty much gone (from home) for most of March and April (on business), only here for one solid week and a half but all of these visits made a difference for my mother. The message here is that every little bit counts, seeing someone, even if it is only for an hour or two.

Though my mom did come home for a week’s visit recently, she is still in the hospital in Chisasibi.

This is the first time she has been hospitalized for this long. It has been very lonely for her, but we have had our laughs here and there.

We hope to have her here for Mother’s Day, and if that happens, we are going to do something very special for her. We are just hoping that everything goes well with her between now and then, but we understand that we have to be patient.

Share Button

Comments are closed.