By Lesli Bartlett
Well it is June again. My kids are already excited for powwow season and aboriginal day which is on June 21st and they are busy discussing which powwows we will attend. Our oldest daughter is excited about her new regalia a friend made. It is hard to believe that not so many years ago I did not even know what a regalia was. For those who don’t know what regalia is, it is what you will see dancers wear at powwows. Though regalia may be worn at other times as well. There are many different dances. Some of the more common ones you may see here are Women’s Traditional, Fancy Shawl and Jingle as well as Men’s Traditional Fancy and grass. Though you may see some other like smoke dancer and hoop dancers and others I have not listed. My girls dance Fancy Shawl and my boys Grass.
But maybe I should go back a bit. Though my mother’s side is made up of Scottish, Irish, English and First Nation, I did not grow up in the Métis or First Nation community. So, because of this I never identified as Ojibway-Métis. When my Grandma passed, I heard stories of her life growing up, how my grandmother loved to dance and that was how she met my grandfather. My Grandmother was a beautiful woman with her dark hair and dark olive complexion. It is no wonder my grandfather fell in love with her. When I was talking to my great aunt Alma at the funeral about cedar tea she mentioned how my Grandmother would make cedar baths for them. I never knew this about my Grandmother but was told by an Ojibway Elder to pour cedar tea in my youngest daughter’s bath water when she was sick. Another teaching I was taught was that before we are born we choose which family we will be part of so that we can learn from that family and that family can learn from us. In the case of my adopted children, I truly believe they were meant to be part of two families. Two families could learn from them, both us their adopted family and their bio family. I have learned so much from my children and I am sure their bio families would say the same.
I remember the first time meeting my youngest daughter. We hadn’t been allowed for the first month to go to the NICU to see her. The nurses were afraid it would be to traumatic for us to see her withdraw from the drugs. But when we were finally allowed to see her I knew instantly she was meant to be our daughter. We were doing foster to adopt so we knew the risk that she might go back to birth family or could end up being placed with someone from her band. But I loved her from the moment I saw her. Her round checks and her beautiful dark hair. She snuggled in close to my husband when he held her and I know it was the same for him. She would still go through tremors as she was withdrawing from drugs and an overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect her would wash over me. But you may be asking yourself how this all ties in together. Well my youngest daughter is Algonquin First Nation. Though I never made a verbal promise or signed anything, I made a promise in my heart to her birth family, her band and her that she would be raised knowing her culture. I wanted her to grow up to being a proud first nation women. This however brought me down a very unknown path where often I felt alone and like an outsider. I so many times felt like maybe I should forget about trying to be part of the FN community. It was so hard to fit in. Going to the first powwow I was so nervous. But I kept going. I wanted to make sure my daughter didn't lose her culture. But I wanted to offer her more than just what is often called “cultural tourism” but wanted her to be able to feel part of her first nation community. So, I needed to learn as much as possible and become a part of things. I started to volunteer. I went to ceremonies, events and joined drum groups. All along the way learning more and more and making lots of friends.
A few years later we adopted our older daughter who was placed with us at 9 years old. Not only do my daughters who joined our family through adoption dance at powwows but so do my biological children as well. My oldest daughter’s birth father also attends powwows with us. I love seeing the connection my children have to the drum and dancing. When my one daughter led our large women drum group in the water song, it was such a heartfelt moment. Then one of the Aunties who my children dearly love gifted her with a beautiful beaded choker to go with her regalia. I love seeing my children lavished with love by the Aunties and other people in the Metis and First Nation community. Another Auntie that my girls adore gifted them with two beautiful shawls that they so much love because they came from the heart.
It is funny how times change. Today most my friends are from the First Nation and Metis community. Though there still may be times I still feel like an outsider but those feelings are becoming less and less. And I am so thankful that I never let those feelings of being an outsider stop me from becoming involved in the First Nation and Métis community.
Today things have come full circle. I often volunteer teaching bead-work at the Waterloo aboriginal education center. I do it because I have so often heard from families that they tried to go to things so that their child would not lose out on their culture, but felt like so much of an outsider they stopped trying. This breaks my heart not only for the child but for the family. I want to make sure that any family adopting a First Nation, Métis or Inuit child feels supported. That they feel like they can attend the powwow and cultural events and feel welcome. For this reasons I attend powwows, ceremonies and other cultural activities with the families.