These are the people who made it possible for me to exist. These are the lands and waters that nurtured us.
Lavinia. The matriarch. My maternal g-g-grandmother. She looks fierce in this photo because you had to sit still for a long time to have photos taken in the mid-1800s! But when she visits, she’s always funny and warm. Photo taken in St. Stephen, Charlotte County, New Brunswick. I’m not sure if Lavinia ever publicly identified as Peskotomuhkati (she’s written down as Scottish on the 1881 Canadian census), but she’s been guiding me on the journey to reclaim what once was hidden. I’ve asked her permission to show these photos, and she wants to be seen.
“Douglas and His Boys” (written on the back of this photo). Douglas is Lavinia’s husband, my g-g-grandfather. His family name is Scottish, but is also found in England, and it first shows up in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, in the 1700s. The boys are their sons. When Douglas and Lavinia got married, Douglas was really skinny, but she fed him well. They had a great love, were married for over 50 years, and had 11 kids that we know of. Taken in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, with the family home in the background.
Ward. My maternal g-g-g-grandfather. Private, Battery A, 1st Maine Light Artillery, American Civil War. Born in St. Andrews, Charlotte County, New Brunswick. Married Charity, whose family settled St. Andrews. Lived in Calais, Washington County, Maine (a border town across the St. Croix River from St. Stephen, New Brunswick). Ward’s father, Josiah, worked as a ship carpenter in Calais; his family settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s before moving to Maine. Ward’s mother, Mary/Mary Ann, was Abenaki and/or Peskotomuhkati, born in St. Andrews, Charlotte County, New Brunswick. There are no records for Mary/Mary Ann (which is too often the case for Indigenous women), but Ward was racialized on his enlistment records, described as having a “dark complexion” and “grey eyes.” Died in New Orleans, 1862. Buried in Chalmette National Cemetery, Louisiana.
Bertha and Thomas, my maternal great-grandparents on my mom’s maternal side. Thomas is Douglas and Lavinia’s son; born in St. Stephen, Charlotte County, New Brunswick. The boys in the above photo are his brothers. Bertha is Ward and Charity’s granddaughter; born in Calais, Washington County, Maine. Bertha was the matriarch I knew as a child. My Scottish ancestors on Bertha’s side arrived in Massachusetts in 1648 and founded the town of East Machias, Maine, in 1763. My Norman ancestors on Bertha’s side arrived in Massachusetts in 1612. Bertha and Thomas married in 1893 after moving across the continent to Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo taken in Seattle at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition.
Thelma, my maternal grandmother. Thomas and Bertha’s daughter. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, but spent lots of time in New Brunswick, Maine, and Massachusetts as a child and young adult. When she was younger, Thelma looked like her father (the Peskotomuhkati side of the family). Later in life, she dyed her hair red, permed it, and tried to look more like her mother and brother (who looked like the Scottish side of the family). Thelma had a lot of internalized racism. When my mother and I spent time with her, she always made negative comments about Indigenous people. She was kind to me, but she struggled with her mental health and often used alcohol to self-medicate.
My mother’s father and/or his family. Unknown location. I asked the late Lillian Piché Shirt for help with this photo when I stayed at her home in Edmonton in 1994 and 1995. Lillian was from Saddle Lake First Nation, but she lived at the Smallboy Camp for many years and told me about the Rocky Mountain Cree (Asiniwachi Nehiyawak). I don’t know exactly which mountain community my mother is from, but the search continues. Colonization has fractured Indigenous families and left us out of many written records. In mixed families like mine, racism and discrimination has forced us to identify as white in order to pass or gain citizenship. The journey home only happens because we help each other.
Diana. My mom. Born in Nelson, British Columbia, near the west arm of Kootenay Lake in the Selkirk Mountains. Raised in Burnaby, British Columbia, near Burrard Inlet. Died 2017. She would have hated this photo because she has no makeup on and she’s getting something out of the oven – but I chose it because she’s happy here. Taken in Toronto, 1995. We were repairing our relationship around this time, and she was coming with me to events and gatherings at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. She told me she was going to make an appointment to see an elder at Anishinawbe Health Toronto. I wonder if her life would have ended differently if she had actually gone.
Anna/Annie. My father’s mother. Born in Quebec, 1918. My mother told me that when Anna was a child, her father, Joseph, lined up all the children in the house and said, “We are not Russkiy. We are French Canadian. We do not speak Russian anymore. We speak French now.” As a consequence, my paternal grandmother denied her Slavic roots, adopted a French-Canadian identity, and became “Annie.” My mother took photos of Anna/Annie for me when she reunited my father with his mother, but then gave the photos to one of my half-siblings (who isn’t related to Anna/Annie) after I became estranged from my family. The missing photo stands for all the stories that are interrupted and left untold by family discord.
Bernard. My father. Born in Montreal and placed in a Duplessis Orphanage around age 4. My father’s paternal side settled in St. Zotique, Quebec, from at least the mid-1700s. His father was born in Cornwall, Ontario, on the St. Lawrence River. For more information on the Duplessis Orphanages, see The Canadian Encyclopedia, Canada’s Human Rights History, and Wikipedia.
Suzanne. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia. Raised in Sagitawa (sâkitawâhk in the Cree language), the confluence of the Peace and Smoky rivers, a meeting place on an ancient network of river highways, alongside the Grouard/Peace River trails. Also known as Peace River, Alberta, after the peace treaty signed by the Nehiyawak and the Dane-zaa in 1781. All of this history, and all of these people, lead to me. My mother and I had many conversations about our family’s Indigeneity. She told me stories that helped me understand the lives of the people whose photos are posted here. Now it’s my responsibility to tell these stories, as accurately as I can.