We have our little basket with our file on Margaret Keewatin, including a focus statement and a question line, with the help of Lesley Farly and Michelle Hugli Brass. We have a camera, audio recorder, head phones, and a gift of tobacco.
I climb into my husband’s tiny, teal truck and start her up. She’s loud, but the girls don’t flinch. I drive forward so the girls won’t get their feet wet in the wet, wet parking lot. As I pull out of the high school at the beginning of period four, Carly says, “You drive standard?” I tell them about learning to drive a standard in an old grain truck and you could see the field through the floor. Jennifer laughs in the back seat.
The parking lot at the All Nations Healing Hospital is full of vehicles. We squeeze in. “Same place as last time,” I say to the girls who are going cross country, over the rock beds, rather than following the road. I tag along. We had tried to interview Elder Margaret Keewatin last week, but she’d been snowed in and couldn’t come to town.
We walk toward the front entrance way; Carly goes in first, Jennifer holds the door open for me. We walk past the circular waiting area, the blue stream tiled into the floor, and we follow the circle to the White Raven Healing Centre. Donna, the friendly receptionist calls Margaret, and then takes us down to her office. Because there are three of us, Margaret suggests we use the meeting room across the hall.
We set up our equipment, the table, the chairs, to make it comfortable. I explain that we are writing a book about First Nations and Metis Leaders in our area. I nudge the tobacco toward the girls to present, but they are both shy. I pick up the four cigarettes, tied together with a red straw string. “We would like to give you this tobacco to thank you for the words you will share with us.”
“I have so much tobacco, too bad I don’t smoke,” Margaret says, and laughs. She is wearing an orange sweater, and she is warm like sunshine.
We do a test of the equipment; Carly chats a bit with Margaret and then we begin. Four minutes into the interview our audio SD card stops. It is full. I try to remember how to delete material, but I’m afraid of losing what we already have, so we go old school and hand write.
Q: What does your job mean to you?
A: I’m needed by a lot of people and I have lots of clients like this morning, an old woman brought her seven year old. Other people have problems, some don’t know how to cope. So messed up. Don’t know what to do, so they get in trouble. Even students from Bert Fox, teachers or the principal recommend me. Go see Margaret. Go see Margaret, and there was this one girl, she had quite a big problem, so messed up, but a real good girl. She always said I want to see my favourite elder in the world, she would tell her teacher, so that made me feel good, and I finally got her straightened out. She was off and on and finally I got her straight on the road.
Marget tells a heart-felt story of a little girl who lost her dad.
He showed you this far and its up to you to go the rest of the way. The road your dad put you on. Now its up to you. Get back on that road, cause that’s where your dad left you. Now you’re a grown up, you’re beautiful. You have to love yourself. Your body, it’s a gift. You want to go to the good place. Your time will come. You don’t need to rush. Your time is marked. On that day you’ll make it. That doesn’t mean today or tomorrow, nobody knows, but it’s not right now, so smarten up, get back on that road. Finish that road that your dad paved for you. So cry. Cry. Feel all that pain. So, let’s start again. After six sessions, she was the happiest little girl. “I know what I want to be,” she said. I told her, “The sky is the limit.”
The last time she came she brought her bead work, and at the end when I finished having sessions, and her grandma was raising her. Last time I saw her at the round dance, she said. “I’m good,” and she was a happy little girl. I told her that’s all you needed was a kokum to smarten you up. That’s why I like being with people. My payment is when they’re laughing, happy, I did something good today and I made someone laugh.
I don’t do miracles, but some kids it’s hard to get through to them. It’s not up to me how they turn out. I talk to them, and I don’t give up on them. If they will come and see me and I will help them. Same thing with adults, really messed up. There are lots of certified counsellors, but they still want to come see me. So, I try talking to them in a spiritual way, a traditional advisor, the culture and everything, so I use that to talk to them in a spiritual way.
Q: What are your goals in your work?
A: Help people. People feel good about themselves. I like helping people in that way, young and old, and also I deal with the patience on the hospital side or the nurses will say we have a patient over there who needs an elder, sure enough, they’re happy when I come see them. Some are just angry. Life is not good for them. They can’t get on the good side of life. They’re stuck on the bad side, but just a reminder from an elder, this is how I should do it.
Margaret tells the story of a woman in an abusive relationship.
It’s like she couldn’t think for herself. Always being controlled. Couldn’t use her mind. What made you stay with a man who abuses you, I ask. That’s all I know, she said. Thought you had grandparents, I said. I do. They love me. They help me. I’ll help you, I said. Let’s talk.
She started telling me her life with this man. That’s all she knows. He drinks and then comes and beats her up. So we talked about everything. What made you stay with this man. I don’t know. Have no friends. Doesn’t allow me to have friends. She would cry. I would stop, give her a chance, let it all out, there for an hour. By the time she left we were laughing. We smudged together. I feel much better, she told me. I think all I needed was to talk to an elder. I didn’t know there was such a thing, you could talk about these things. I only knew what was happening to me my whole life. I feel like you came here and opened the door for me. Now I know what I want now. I don’t want to go to that life again, to be tortured and beaten up. That’s another story I’m telling you. That’s the reality of life today. If you think you have a problem, maybe someone has a bigger problem.
It’s good you’re sitting here today to talk to an elder. I’m opening the door for you, now you’ll see there are all kinds of different problems, and for you not to get involved in that future. Finish your school, most important, if your relationship doesn’t work out right, you have your education to fall back on, but if you don’t finish your education, this is where you’re going to get stuck. So most important to finish school. That’s what you need today, finish. It doesn’t matter how hard it is, at least you’ll know how to approach the good life.
Q: Who encouraged you to meet your goals?
A: Jean Bellegarde, Director of White Raven when it was at the old hospital, it had a different name. I was at my home in Okanese. I invited her in. She’s from Peeppekesis, too, but she lives in Regina. Margaret, I’m coming to see you. We had tea, then I said, there must be a reason why you’re here. Yes. I’ve come to ask you if you’d like to work? Where? What am I supposed to do? Work as an elder in a hospital? Nothing? No, I want to do something. We’ll find out as we go. I’ll be using you for people who want to come and see an elder. Okay. That’s where I want you to be. Okay. When do I start? Next week. You’ll work three days a week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. That next Monday I went to work. That’s ten years ago, and I became a senator at the same time. Being a senator, I’ve got to go to a lot of meetings. I belong to the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre and the Disability Working Group, some are in wheel chairs, some are blind, those are the kinds of people I work with, see what these disabled people need, what help do they need. When they have a meeting, I’m really, really busy. I often get a call on my way to the hospital and I have to go to work. I enjoy my work. What would I do if I stayed at home? Last week when I was snowed in, I got restless. As soon as the road was cleared I jumped in my vehicle and went to town for the mail.
Q: What is a Cultural Advisor?
A: I talk about the culture. What is sweetgrass? What is rain dance, pow wow, round dance. I do women’s sweats, only women. Another male elder does one for men and we have one helper, too. Many of our people don’t know what they are, what they mean. We tell people about it, they don’t even know. They phone into the front desk, find out what time the next sweat is.
Q: Do you enjoy helping others?
A: Yes, I enjoy helping others achieve strength and help. They say, I feel different. I’m a different person. They’re a different person. Maybe they were sick, a flu or something, because they’re stressed out and depressed. They talk and maybe they are all good again. That’s all they needed. That’s what I do. Opening the doors, maybe they see the light.
Q: What’s your biggest challenge?
A: My biggest challenge is to go and talk to them, to those in a very bad situation, like murder. That little fear is in me when I approach that person who did that wrong, but then when we talk face to face, with dangerous people, they are kind people, too, who have feelings too, they break down and cry. They’re softies, but the only way they could get that out was to do something dangerous. If someone could have only talked to them before, they could have talked to someone face-to-face with the people, maybe they wouldn’t have done that. I always make sure I’m not alone. Need to be together with two of us. Have to protect myself too.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us today?
A: I have lots to share, but what I have told you is good for now. Maybe you will come back and we will talk some more, about other things, too. I have lots to share, such as my dreams. I just had a dream on Thursday night, I think I’m just being shown to watch and be careful for what’s happening out there. I was shown that sickness is out there in my dream, but I saw it, and I’m supposed to share that with people.
You know those little round circle dishes, they use them in school and in the hospital to study germs, and germs appear, and what they look like and the little spots. I dreamt that I was in the bush with my family and we were going to eat and I looked toward the west and it was a perfect circle, a red circle in the sky, and it was getting bigger, coming right toward us. In the centre there were black dots and the circle was coming toward us and I started yelling, everybody, get down, get down, so me, my mother and my daughter, and the little girl kept trying to look, we had wanted to eat, and we had food, soup in all the bowls, and we had to get out of there and we were under the white sheet and I could feel it, the circle, and finally I got up and it was gone. We got up to eat and the food was all covered with white stuff, germs and I think I’m being told to be aware that this is what is going to happen or happening now. These are the kinds of dreams I have and I’m wanting to pass the word and help.
Carly hugs Margaret, and so does Jennifer. I take a picture of the three of them. Then, we rush out as we say thank you over and over. As we leave the hallway, I tell Margaret that I do some writing, and is it okay if I use her words for that as well. Sure, she says. We only have four minutes if we’re going to make it back on time for period five. We swing the hospital door open and step into the light.