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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

So long, Guhkum

BY Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash Jul 5, 2019

About two or three months ago, I had a beautiful dream of Guhkum. We were sitting on the rocks where Assinica Lake meets Broadback River. We were talking and then she stood up, saying she had to go.

I had made her a pair of mocs. But she looked at mine, and said, “No, I want yours.” I tried to convince her to take the pair I made for her, but she really wanted mine. I took them off and gave them to her. Away she went, carefully and smiling, over the rocks.

My grandmother was in the hospital at that time and her condition was deteriorating fast. I then knew I had to prepare accordingly. Guhkum, Mary Jane Kitchen Saganash, left for the spirit world June 7 at 4:22 am, surrounded by family.

Tragic, yet a relief. My grandmother couldn’t see, couldn’t feel her hands and couldn’t even walk at the end. She was a woman who gave birth to eight of her 12 children in the bush, who took care of them alone after my grandfather William Saganash passed away, and who survived the trauma of having them being taken away from her to residential schools.

My grandmother is the strongest woman I’ve ever known and seeing her in such bad shape was painful.

Grief is messy. Some days I’m doing okay and then I’m too exhausted to even think about healing. My uncle Red takes me out on the land, but as soon as I come back to Waswanipi I get hit by intense waves of sadness. I have a hard time passing her house at 9 Balsam Street. Grief is numbness. I don’t read, I barely write and I don’t bead. I just exist. I spent a lot of time taking care of her this past year and her passing leaves a void in my life. I feel useless, without purpose.

Our relationship was both complicated and simple. It was me being away from her for so long then being with her constantly during her last year. I hope she forgives me for losing patience because she was in pain in hospital. I hope she forgives me for crying on the hospital floor at night because I was exhausted from being there day and night. She was mad at the world, and so was I. My aunts’ support kept me from falling apart. My aunts inherited her strength. They have become positive role models in my life. When I grow, I want to be like my aunts. I could fall apart, but I won’t. I think the best way to honour her is to live a healthy life.

There are too many stories to tell about my grandmother. Her life was epic and she knew so much about Eeyou pimatsiiwin. I miss her. So much. I miss watching TV with her and the pride she would show while watching me craft. I miss kissing her forehead before going to work and falling asleep to the sound of her voice when she would talk in her sleep. I miss her giving me shit for putting small pikes back in the water when I would go fishing.

I knew no one like her. She was unique. Coming from a white mom and a Cree dad, there were many times where I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. But there’s one thing I knew for sure: Guhkum was my home.

A friend of mine told me that his dad’s last words before going on his last journey were: “I take nothing to my grave. It’s all still here. Seek and you shall find.”

I will go find my grandmother in the bush now. It’s true what he said, she’s everywhere now.

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Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is Cree from Waswanipi, and is the Nation’s newest columnist. She is an activist and writer who also has a regular column in Montreal’s French Metro Newspaper.