I recently took a DNA test. The result was that I was a quarter Indigenous, the rest English and a bit of French which is what I had already suspected. I could have allowed myself to feel like a walking contradiction, at war with the different sides of who I am but I didn’t succumb to the internal confusion and sense of displacement like a child with divorced parents trying to decide which one I wanted to live with. Instead I started working on my family tree to find out more about where I came from so that I could learn more about who I was and how I wanted to identify myself.
I was brought up in a home where my grandmother spoke primarily in her first language, Dene, where we ate traditional food and wore homemade traditional garments. I grew up in a culture that was thriving despite the outside world trying to break it apart and for me that is what makes me proud to be Indigenous. Every day was Indigenous Peoples day for me. I was raised by a community of aunties and surrounded by cousins that were and always have been there for each other.
In trying to make sense of my family history I started working from my grandmothers’ side. Since I knew virtually nothing of my father’s side, other than that he came from a long line of red heads, that side of my ancestry would have to wait until I was ready to delve into the complicated history of how they came to Turtle Island.
I stayed up well into the night working on my grandmother’s side of the family tree. Travelling back in time through the intricate histories of the first peoples of the north I soon discovered a pattern in which the full blooded Indigenous peoples that my European descendants married were less likely to be named in the history books. Despite this blatant racial bigotry by the publishers of the histories that I found myself diving into, I found a strikingly empowering and profound sense of duty to be the best person I can be and my heart was filled with wonder after learning about my age old relatives.
Declared a “Slavey Indian” in the incorrect history books, my great grandmother was a full Densoline or Chipewyan woman. She had Athabaskan bloodlines and lived her entire life on the land on a volcanic crater in the North Arm of the Great Slave Lake. Her family lived in the north for thousands of years having once come from an even colder land. Some of her relatives would continue travelling all the way up to the Navajo nation, some even further to Central America near Guatemala but those that had it in them to survive the harsh northern environment stayed.
My great grandmother, my Kookum, was a medicine woman and never let one hair on her head fall to the ground. She lived over a century until she lost count. She married a man named Vital Laferte whose mother was the north’s famous Catherine Bouvier, whom I’m named after. Catherine was tough. She was a trapper who travelled through the small northern communities by dogsled delivering the mail. She was the first farmer in the north and was the granddaughter of Francois Beaulieu, a great Patriarch, born in 1771, having lived over 100 years.
In case you need a quick northern history lesson, Francois Beaulieu led the famed explorer Alexander Mackenzie down the disputably named ‘Mackenzie’ River Basin (a water system larger than the entire European continent) through the ‘Slave’ (also a name that should have long been changed to its rightful Indigenous place name) and down the Coppermine (an advanced class 3 paddle) until reaching the Arctic Ocean. Francois was also brother-in-law to the legendary warrior Akaitcho. In those days, Francois killed a dozen Tlicho men before the Chipewyan and the Tlicho made a Peace Treaty. Francois’ father was from France and his mother was part Cree and part Densoline, her name was Ethiba, a beautiful name indeed.
So whenever I need to feel grounded and remember who I am and where I come from, or whenever I feel like I don’t know which way to go in life or that I’m not good enough, I turn to my ancestors for guidance as they seemed to have known the way all those years ago in a time that was fraught with a different kind of hardship than the world is faced with now. They were strong and full of ancient wisdom and I am proud to say that I am Indigenous royalty on the celebration of Indigenous day.
Have you looked into your family tree lately? I’m sure you will be surprised to find treasures beyond the belief of a people that have paved the way for you. You are standing in their footsteps. You have the same tough northern blood. They are watching, hoping you will do something great with your life and go down in the history books making your future generations proud, reminding you that you are strong and capable of surmounting anything that comes your way.