Attawapiskat is mourning the loss of two Elders who were deeply loved and admired by many in the community.
My Aunt, Theresa Kataquapit, was a kind matriarch to her family and encouraged and supported those around her quietly with openness and love. My Uncle, John Paulmartin, was a highly respected hunter and trapper who raised his family to become strong capable individuals and he taught so many of us to be good and hard working through his quiet example.
Neither Theresa nor John held major political positions in the community, but they greatly influenced many lives during their lifetimes.
Aunt Theresa was born and raised in the Iahtail family. Her parents Joseph Iahtail and Mary (Wabano) Iahtail raised their traditional family along the banks of the Ekwan River system north of Attawapiskat. She grew up learning all the skills of survival on the land. Aunt Theresa was also a very spiritual person who followed the Catholic religion and understood its similarities to our traditional beliefs.
She raised her family in Attawapiskat with her husband Gabriel (my father Marius’ brother) and she followed her children as they pursued their secondary education in Timmins, Ontario. She was there for her boys every day as a rock of strength, wisdom and love in unfamiliar lands. It must have been difficult for her to leave her husband Gabriel for long periods of time while he minded the homestead in Attawapiskat.
They realized it was a good thing to do in the name of education and the results are proven in the eight boys who have grown into strong, kind and capable men. Their sons Robert, Brian, Steve, Jeffery, Ron, Eric, Norman and Lindy all carry the kindness, good humour, openness and strength of their parents. They also have maintained their parents’ language, culture and traditions. Aunt Theresa took the time in Timmins to connect with Indigenous programs and services that helped other young people from the James Bay coast and northern Ontario.
In everything she did, Aunt Thesesa shared our unique form of Cree humour. At one point she was featured in a cast of Cree puppeteers dedicated to language teachings. Her husband, a traditional James Bay fiddle player, shared that same sense of fun and I can imagine all the times they must have shared around the jigs and reels they played when they were young.
Uncle John, who is an older brother to my mother Susan, was born and raised on the Nawashi River to the strong and proud Paulmartin family. The Paulmartin clan was a tight-knit group of hard-working individuals headed by their parents Xavier Paulmartin and Louise (Chookomolin) Paulmartin. The Paulmartin men were excellent hunters and trappers, and Uncle John became famous in our community as one of the best in his generation. His skill was so great that he was known to many as “Meeheegun”, the Cree word for wolf, which every hunter respected and honoured.
He married Mary Louise, who was part of the Koostachin clan from Lakitusaki (Lake River). They raised Margaret, Clara, Bessie, Linda, Steve, Norbert, Laurette, Michael, Terry and Hubert to become as equally talented and capable as their parents. Unfortunately, their son Paul died as a child. This was another family that saw the father hold their house in Attawapiskat while their mother guided the children in Timmins.
Uncle John worked all his life, whether it was out on the land with traditional pursuits or by taking on modern technology as an electrical technician in the community. He was a quiet man who reminded me of his father, our grandfather Xavier Paulmartin. When Uncle John did share his stories, he was a library of knowledge and history about his family and our people. He shared and passed on much of this vast knowledge to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other young hunters and trappers.
Aunt Theresa and Uncle John were the same in many ways. They quietly influenced many individuals over their lifetimes that their contributions helped to shape our community. They led by example through their constant work ethic, their connection to their faith, their respect of the land and the love of their families, their community and anyone else who came into their lives.
Although they are gone, I know they will remain in the hearts and minds of all their children and their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Kitchi-Meegwetch Toosis Tenes nesh-tah Nookoomis Chon, Kee-sah-kee-eh-tee-nan.