Opinion

With my career on hold and my people and traditions dying, I turned my focus to starting a family

"I dreamt of bringing my daughter to a full lodge with hundreds of relatives singing together. Instead, I have a computer and a cell phone to connect with family and friends—and this will have to do, for now."

I have always wanted to be a mom.

I dreamt about what kind of parent I would be and even collected baby things before I became one earlier this year. I have an incredible collection of vintage baby clothes and infant jumpers from all my favourite bands that I squirrelled away until it was my time.

I had always been really scared about timing around starting a family. I grew up in the arts, first as a dancer and now, more recently, as a storyteller and filmmaker. I consider myself an activist and use my platform to speak up for Indigenous people. I carry the pressure to perform and be involved. As my career started blossoming, I didn’t think I could take time for myself. I thought I would lose opportunities to create change, speak truth and to be ‘at the table’.

On the other hand, every day that I didn’t focus on creating life, I feared I would lose the chance to introduce my child to my elders and my way of life. As an Anishinaabekwe living in a colonial world, I used to say that, “I walk in two worlds: an Indigenous reality and a colonial one.”

Now that I’m a mom, I see it a little differently and have learned to reject the notion that I am a split being. I walk as I am; here as the result of my ancestors who have adapted to an ever-changing world. They have never been a passive, conquered people. They’ve adapted and influenced the opposing forces they encountered and helped create the world I live in now.

I grew up in Barrie, Ont. and was one of the only Indigenous kids at my school. I was different than all of the other kids. I was proud to be Indigenous, proud of who I was and the teachings I followed—and was severely bullied for it. My world view, my truth and my experiences made me a target of racism. I was socially isolated from my peers and gaslit by teachers, who acted like they understood the reality of Canada better than I did.

I felt at home when I visited my rez in the summers and travelled around Lake Superior seasonally for ceremonies. My people know a different Canada. We’ve known this land for thousands of years, and more recently, the pain of dislocation and genocide. It’s hard to carry intense, collective trauma like this and have your truth dismissed or subordinated. We had to hide ourselves to protect our ways of knowing and being.

This reality is unique for my people. I’m not split and I don’t have to choose one world or the other. I can build and create a family that speaks my language, dances in the lodge and also films television shows. For quite some time, I felt an urgency to create life in order to preserve my culture; to pass on our elder’s stories and ways of life before they were lost. I’ve been working towards cultural reclamation in my work and I don’t want to fear loss all the time.

The pandemic hit my spirit extra hard. All of a sudden, the waiting I had done and the sacrifices I made for work, felt meaningless. 2020 was supposed to be an eventful year in my career. I was set to travel to all corners of the earth. I was going to have my mom with me as we toured New Zealand for an entire month. I was trying to invest in a life (almost) fit for a family—if only I could slow down.

Then everything shut down. All of my speaking engagements and tours were cancelled. A call to isolate was announced. I decided it was the perfect time to have a child.

the author demonstrating the tying of the moss bag

The author tying the moss bag on baby Maamaatesiinh. Photo: Courtesy of Sarain Fox

In addition to my career feeling paused, this pandemic hit our elders hard and they have remained at the highest risk. I feared losing my dad, my mom and our eldest matriarch, my auntie Marie. How could I ever live with myself if my unborn child didn’t get to meet them, hear their stories and experience their legacy? I want my daughter to be proud of our culture, to be surrounded by elders, to have her truth affirmed and have access to our cultural ways (as easily as she can turn on Netflix).

My community has lost so many elders this year, including the grand chief of our lodge. These losses weren’t all pandemic-related, but our isolation made it impossible to gather. Not only were we unable to say a proper goodbye, but these elders took songs and stories and our histories with them—and we might never hear them again.

Last month, my dad held my daughter for the first time, and my auntie Marie met her last week. But it wasn’t how I imagined.

I had dreamed of introducing her to a full lodge with hundreds of relatives singing together. I dreamed of dancing and feasting. I yearned to bring her all the places that made me who I am today.

Instead, I have a computer and a cell phone to connect with family and friends. This will have to do for now. I just hope our teachings and cultures will survive this or adapt to our new reality.

Many of our ways require connection to the land and to each other. So until we can gather again, I’ll be trying my best to share my elders stories and to introduce her to the people who matter most—even if only virtually.

Sarain Fox is Anishinaabe from Batchawana First Nation and mom to Maamaatesiinh (“little firefly”). She is passionate about empowering Indigenous communities and amplifying their voices, especially those of the youth. She is a multifaceted artist and activist who comes from a long line of storytellers.