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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Pandemic be damned

BY Xavier Kataquapit Jul 31, 2020

I come from a large family with eight siblings. My mom Susan and my dad Marius certainly had a lot of challenges in caring for such a large group of children. These days, as I find myself with more time during this pandemic, I drift back to when I was a child in Attawapiskat and think about all the work my parents had to do to raise us. 

Life for my parents when they were growing up was hard as they lived mostly on the land, with little education that came with the trauma of attending the residential school system and living at home in conditions that were less than perfect. Mom worked for many years in the kitchen of the local hospital and she learned some skills that made her a great cook. Dad was always a hard worker and although he had ventured out from the community for a time here and there working mostly on the railroad and in forestry, his love was doing his own thing. He was always coming up with a new project as part of his work in building, fixing, transportation and construction.

I have enough trouble caring for myself so I can’t imagine what a huge job it was for my parents to provide for such a large family. I recall mom washing clothes every day. We had an enormous home-built hamper in the house, and it was always full of our dirty laundry. I rarely saw the bottom of that hamper as mom worked every day to do the washing and keep us in clean clothes. She also had to cook all our meals, clean the house, shop for supplies and make sure we behaved. She was a supermom, no doubt about that.

I wonder what she and dad would have thought if they had lived long enough to experience this pandemic. It occurs to me that disease, discomfort, critical life challenges and hardship was something they were very accustomed to and they might see this pandemic as just another turn in the trail of life. Somehow, even with all the hard work and challenges my parents had to face, I know that most of the time they were happy. They felt they had a purpose in life, and they went to work every day to provide for their family and to be good friends and neighbours.

Many of us complain about having to deal with the dangers of Covid-19 and the daily challenges we live through. We are upset about wearing masks in public. We don’t want to understand that we need to stay two metres from others. We are fed up with washing our hands and not being able to move about freely. 

However, at the same time our governments are helping us financially, we are mostly in the comfort of our homes, we have devices we can use to communicate with others and we can be entertained by vast media choices 24 hours a day. Most of us in Canada are eating well, staying employed to a great degree and we know that if we do get sick with this virus that we have a healthcare system that is open to us all.

I think that if my mom and dad were still living, they would advise us to take this pandemic seriously, follow the rules set out by expert virologists and keep our family and friends safe. They would remind us to be thankful for all that we have and for the fact that we are living in a free and democratic country. I am sure they would give anything to be able to come back and enjoy life no matter what the challenges are. They would love to see their children, grandchildren, family and friends and to breathe the fresh northern air. To be alive and well, to wake to the sounds of birds and enjoy a good breakfast would be just fine with them even with the challenge of the pandemic.

My parents understood how precious life was and how short it could be. I remember their teachings on being aware of this and to be thankful for every day, even with all the challenges that come along. Soon many of us will be gone and this magic we call life will be no more. It is us up us to remember how wonderful life is while we are in this world. Pandemic be damned. 

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.