My Mom Read Newspapers. I Wonder What That Was Like For Her.
by waaseyaa'sin christine sy
This is the first entry for a new category that I’ve added to Anishinaabewiziwin called “News Commentary”. I decided to make it after I realized that I spend a lot of time reading online news articles, or news headlines, and while doing so I’m always asking questions or making analyses. I decided that writing some of my thoughts out might somehow be helpful if not a bit self-serving in expressing some of my critique of the neo-colonial world we’re living in. I like to think that maybe all my years of schooling–reading, writing, talking, thinking, reflecting, analyzing–might amount to some useful insight on the contemporary issues Indigenous peoples are negotiating or celebrating today. In this section, I might also have something to say about Indigenous-non-Indigenous relationships. Less often, but quite possibly, I will sound in on racism (and other ‘isms’) perpetuated against Indigenous peoples through newspapers. I must say, I was greatly relieved when Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson’s, Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers (University of Manitoba Press, 2011) came out: it was validating and liberating–now I don’t have to write it! It in this spirit of engaging the world, sharing thoughts about it, celebrating and speaking back to it, that I created this section and dedicate it to my mother. She read newspapers all the time and I often wonder what that was like for her. While I don’t think we would have had the same analysis of the world as portrayed in newspapers, I do wonder if she ever wanted to speak back, or if she wrote letters to the Editor and if so were they published or rejected. Did she talk about her ideas to someone? I think that engaging with the news, using voice, impressing Anishinaabe woman’s thought onto and into a world dominated by non-Anishinaabeg thought, celebrating when necessary and speaking back when necessary to what is being published in the news, might serve some important manidooyag (spirits) or spiritual process out there in the ether. My hope is that it will inform something important here on earth too: creating a dialogue where Indigenous women’s voice, thoughts, analysis, and visions in our homelands are considered relevant and important.
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My mother is Mary-ban. She passed away in 1995 in Bawating (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario). She was from Obishkikaang (Lac Seul First Nation), Treaty #3. What I know of her is based on a few childhood and teenage memories; a few gifts that came through her from a paternal uncle; and, stories. Most of these stories have come from my dad, others have come from random people I met as a teenager, and still other stories have come from the women in her family—a few of her sisters and other family members that I am slowly making connections with.
The two stories I share here are the ones about my mom and newspapers.
The last time I seen her was on Wellington St. West, outside the Blue Buoy Restaurant, in Bawating. I was 19 years old and finishing my OACs (Ontario Academic Credits). Back then you needed “grade 13” to get into university. As the reality struck that I was going away to school and with the support of my adopted family, I was urged to get my Status Card (i.e. a card issued by the federal [colonizing] government to Indigenous peoples they call “Indians”; it shows that you are indeed an Indian according to their definition and are therefore entitled to the treaty rights that flow from the treaties they have with Indigenous Nations.) As a part of the application, I needed a note signed by my mother affirming she was indeed my mother, I her daughter. Because I did not have a relationship with her, this required me to connect with her for the first time as a teenager. I asked my dad if he would come with me to meet her.
She agreed to me us at the Blue Buoy Restaurant, a favourite of hers that was in her neighbourhood. A favourite of mine too, now closed, they made a killer panzarotti. Anyways, on the meeting day, as my dad and me were walking along the sidewalk, there was this woman walking toward us and to this day I see her, my mother, carrying a newspaper rolled up under her left arm.
Later, as we were driving home with signed note in hand, my dad said, “She was always like that.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like that. Always with a newspaper under her arm.”
“Dad. How did you and Mary meet?”
“In a bar. The Winston Park Hotel on Queen.”
That’s a nice place, I think to myself.
“Yep. I was sitting at the bar and she was over at a table by the front window. She came over, asked if she could borrow my newspaper if I was done with it. “
I smile. “What were you doing there?”
My dad chuckles, looks away, “Was there supposed to meet another woman. She never showed up.”
“Ha! Really?!” I laugh. “And Mary came right over and asked you if she could borrow that newspaper?”
“Yep. She was always reading a newspaper.”
And so it’s because I have an idea about what newspapers do and for whom they do it, I wonder what my mom would have thought about what she read. Also, I like that I am engaged in the world and want to know what’s going on, even if it’s through the limited lens of newspapers and the convoluted layers leading to publication. Mostly though, I like that I am the daughter of that Anishinaabe woman and that Newfoundland man who met at the Windsor Park Hotel so many years ago over a newspaper.