My Parents’ Gift

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Hello Mom and Dad,

I took the church on a walk with me for a whole year—through my words in a monthly column in a church magazine.

I shared my personal experiences of residential school with the church. I shared my feelings, the pain and sorrow of being in such a place as a young child. I even got to share a picture of the two of you in one of my columns.

Remember when Dad used to gather us up to take us for a walk through the bush? It was so exciting when it came to blueberry picking time; I got to be carried on his shoulders. I felt a similar excitement when I was asked to be a monthly columnist by the editor. It was so exciting to be on a new adventure.

I walked with them with the words that were in me. I did it with the courage that Mom gave me. Mom, you always encouraged us to do something, to create change. Your gift to me. I also did it in a storytelling way that Dad taught me. I recall how Dad used to tell us stories with his shadow finger puppets on the wall. The gas lamp flickering in the background. The sound of his soft voice weaving stories in the dimly lit room. Both of you taught me well.

I remember you two so fondly. I try to hang on to the good memories I have of both of you. The Miss Beasley doll you bought me as a child from a mail order catalogue. My first real doll. It must have been expensive to order that doll for me. Money was tight or non-existent back in those days. I wish I had that doll longer, but my brothers and sisters took my doll apart to see what made it talk. The special joys of having siblings. Still, I used the memory of that special gift when I had to share my residential school story with the lawyers. It was like you two were with me that day.

Mom, I also shared a small part of your story in my column. Now that I am a parent and have walked in the same footsteps as my parents, I understand why both of you didn’t want to share your story with your children. I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren the good parts of my culture. Good memories. Like when Dad danced his hoop dance for us children. The years of his age melted away as he danced for us. It would be the last time he would dance for us. That is what I want to pass to my children. The beauty of our culture, not the fears of my past.

I remember Dad doing the shadow puppets on the wall, but I can’t understand the words he is saying. All I can recall is his soft, gruff voice and his laughter. Sadly, I have lost the language I spoke as a child. Mom, you tried to teach the written syllabics of our people as a young woman. I refused to sit and learn by your side. I was so ashamed of being the person that I was. Now it is all memories of regrets of the past.

As I write this letter, I am finding bits of my language that would fit better with what I am trying to write. Like the Ojibwa nickname you had for me. One-Who-Talks-Too-Much. How well I have lived up to that name. I am a columnist and a freelance writer. You two would have loved reading some of the articles that I have written. One can see how much you two have inspired me by the words I have written.

My column was well received by the readers of the church. I have written the words with my heart. To teach, not to hurt. Too much hurt and pain on both sides. The church and the Indigenous community. It is time to heal from the past.

I walk with the church with the memories of my past guiding me.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Love,

One-Who-Talks-Too-Much

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About Vivian Ketchum

My name is Vivian Ketchum. I was born and raised in the Kenora area. I am a Anishnabe of Wauzhushk Onigum, a First Nation Community outside of Kenora. I currently live in Winnipeg, Man., and have for the past 20 years.