THUNDER BAY – I was lucky. Although I was raised in a large family by my mom Susan and dad Marius myself and my eight siblings were always well cared for and guided. Life was not very easy for any of us living in Attawapiskat 20 or 30 years ago. There was poverty, poor housing, a lack of full service health and education and rampant alcohol and drug abuse. Sadly, too many of these issues are still hurting my people back home today.
Still, I always felt fortunate that mom and dad ran an organized household. We always had great food to eat, we were warm and had good homes that were well cared for, we were supported in our goals to get an education and from an early age we were taught the value of working hard to have a good life. Although, my mom suffers these days from debilitating arthritis, when I was young she was spry and always managed to make the time to prepare meals, keep our home and lives organized and motivate us to be the best we could be. She and dad believed in education and pushed us to go to school. They also provided us with spiritual values and motivated us to be kind, open and understanding.
My dad Marius was a go getter from an early age and he always believed that success was due to hard work. He was a traditional man who knew the James Bay and coast very well. As a young man he spent many months out on the land hunting, trapping and fishing to feed and support his family. He was dedicated to all of us as was mom and we certainly owe our survival and any success in life to them.
Happily, mom had much useful training from her elders and parents and teachers. She really always managed a very well run home. For a few years when I was young she worked in the kitchen at our hospital back home. That turned out to be a very good thing for our large family as she could put together a nutritious and great tasting meal quickly. I loved her lasagna and spagetti which she made often with moose or caribou meet. Every Friday we dined on platters of fresh battered fried fish.
In the summer we collected mostly goose berries and mom magically turned them into wonderful jam that we had with our bannock. She also baked gooseberry pies. Mom always made sure we had enough and she also provided us with many teachings to make sure we could prepare good meals ourselves.
Dad was a dreamer and he was always planning his next big project. He was a successful entrepreneur who managed to develop all sorts of businesses including freight hauling, transportation, construction and food and hotel services. Although he has passed, some of my siblings continue to manage businesses he started. We all learned from an early age that we needed to contribute to the success of his businesses. This taught us the importance of work and we learned many skills to help us through life.
I recall those days of hard work with my sibling either hauling freight, running a fast food restaurant, working on construction projects or collecting firewood. It was hard work and some times we had to deal with freezing temperatures in the winter or black flies and mosquitoes in the summer. Mom was always our back up. When we got home tired and hungry she was there with a great meal prepared for us. The house was warm and cozy and our beds ready for a good night sleep. Those days were great and will forever stand out in my memory.
Due to the fact that mom and dad kept us busy and cared so much about us we had an easier life and although I later had to deal with alcoholism and addictions I was fortunate to have had teachings early in life on making good choices. I believe this made me more open to realizing I had a problem and reaching out for help.
More and more these days I realize how important my parents were in helping me survive and have a life. I have also had a lot of guidance and help from good friends and other family members. I try my best to remember to be grateful for the good life I have today and that fact that I am living clean and sober. Recently, I visited with my mom and enjoyed some quality time with her. We like to just sit and chat. We reminisce a lot and she passes along many stories and teachings. When I am with her I am reminded of how much she gave to myself, my dad and my siblings. She reminds me to be grateful.