Remembering Kokum

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Recently, Our Pink Thoughts website honoured Lydia Corston, a Moose Factory Cree who passed on earlier this year at the age of 89. Her granddaughter Marla Newhook recounted the role her grandmother (born Lydia Kapashesit in Rupert’s House) played in her family. “She was a very strong woman who had such a big influence on my life and that was why I wrote the article on her. I wanted to celebrate her life,” said Newhook.

In her article, Newhook told of growing up in a family of nine, including six children, in Moose Factory. “In the spring during break-up, the expanse of ice that separated Moose Factory from the mainland, Moosonee, would creak and groan for weeks before the ice floes finally broke apart and slowly drifted out to James Bay,” she wrote. “My sparse but nostalgic memories of Moose Factory are probably much different from those of my grandmother (or Kokum), who spent much of her adolescence in a residential school.”

Newhook talked of the effects she could see that the Horden Hall residential school had on her grandmother. “Her memories and experiences of that time were locked away deeply in her psyche only to emerge in times of distress and anxiety,” wrote Newhook.

The time she spent with her nanny was precious. “I looked forward to those sleepovers because it was an opportunity to escape my large family and spend one-on-one time with someone who listened to me and told me stories. She taught me how to play card games like Gin Rummy while we listened to the radio, or if I was lucky, she let me help her make her necklaces by threading beads,” wrote Newhook.

Newhook feels the tragedy of her grandmother’s passing was the loss of her connection to Cree culture, language and way of life. “As kids when she used to speak Cree to us we would tell her that she had to speak English. We had moved to North Bay, Ontario when I was young. She came with us.

“We wanted to be more like all of our friends and ended up losing touch with our culture. It’s only now that I’m older that I realize what we could have shared and known,” said Newhook to the Nation. She feels the loss of the language and the knowledge of traditional crafts and artistry that her grandmother wanted to pass on to her family.

Newhook said she wants others to know that one day they will realize the value of what their Elders knew and wanted to share with them. “I wish I had taken the traditional ways into my life and carried them onward. My mother just passed away last month and that’s another link to our heritage gone. The two most important and influential women in my life are now gone and I miss them so much,” said Newhook.

“My grandmother did not have an easy life but she persevered and carried on. A lot of life’s lessons I learnt from her and my mother,” said Newhook.

She hopes the Our Pink Thoughts article about her grandmother will help other First Nations women, especially the younger ones. She feels hope because today’s youth are being encouraged to embrace their culture.

Newhook was proud to share her grandmother’s life and the influence it had on her life with others.

In fact, this is the idea behind Our Pink Thoughts according to founding director Catherine Jordan, who sees it as a national initiative to reach out to and mentor young women. “I am inspired by women and felt the need to share our stories and life lessons. Apparently there are a lot of women and young girls who agree,” she said.

Our Pink Thoughts is a labour of love for Jordan as the website is self-supporting. Not only do women share their stories but others help out in any way they can. “I get tons of email every day from people thanking me or wanting to get involved,” she said.

Jordan said other media have expressed interest in publishing the stories and it is great that these women are getting recognized. The Our Pink Thoughts website was launched on March 8, 2010, Jordan’s birthday and the 100th anniversary of International Woman’s Day.

Jordan is trying to reach rural and First Nations women and hopes they will join her in mentoring and sharing life lessons with young women.

Sharing is something we all need in today’s society. Newhook underlines this thought in the conclusion of her story on her grandmother. “She wasn’t famous or noteworthy, at least not to those outside of our community, but to me she was a constant in an ever-changing world. She represented everything that was warm and comforting, like hot soup on a snowy day.”

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