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My Family

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Melanie (Moosetail) Chartrand 1920 - 2006

I would like to introduce you to my Great Grandparents - Flora & Alex Chartrand.

Flora Brass (her maiden name) was born in 1872 in Shoal River, Manitoba and the daughter of John Brass and Marguerite Beardy (info from Cameron Longo) Alex Chartrand was a Metis from the Red River Settlement, born in 1865...they got married on April 23, 1889. The photo of them was probably taken in 1924...the building behind them belonged to a man where Alex used to work...Flora used to mend nets as a job. They are dressed in their Sunday best...both were hard workers.

 

Cameron Longo has done extensive research on our family and I must give him credit for being able to locate the two photos above. The first one was taken around 1949 to 1950. The Second one I don't really have a date for. In fact, he was not 100% positive it was my Great Grandmother Flora Brass, but he posted on his site that it was...so it's great to have these. Cameron's grandmother is Maggie Parenteau who was my Kookum's sister.

My Kookum (Cree for Grandmother)Florestine Moosetail. I met her for the first time when I was around 7 years old. She came to visit us when we lived in the lower part of a house located on Alexander Street. I remember walking past her bedroom and seeing her braiding a long strip of cloth and wondered what she was doing. I later got to see two beautiful braided rugs that she gifted to my dear Mom. Years later when I was 13 years old, my Mom took me on a train ride to Duck Bay, Manitoba where I got to meet a lot of my Aunties and Uncles as well as cousins. We went to visit my Kookum as well. She was living in a tar paper shack...it actually wasn't as bad as it sounds as she had it decorated quite nicely with hand sewn quilts and other comforts of home. While walking around her property with my cousin, I noticed a lot of rabbit skins hanging in the trees. She also had a two seater outhouse. I thought that was pretty cool as I had never seen one before. When my Mom and I returned to Vancouver, we brought Kookum back with us for a visit. She was a religious woman who wore a medalion pinned to her night gown. She wasn't able to speak English so communicating with her was a bit difficult. I remember listening to Kookum and my Mom speaking Cree/Saulteaux and wishing that I could understand what they were saying as they tended to laugh quite a bit.

 

.                     Clearwater, BC, 1958   

This photo was taken around 1958 and the location might be Clearwater, BC. I remember my Mom telling me that she was carrying me at the time, since I was born in April, I guess she might have been 5 or 6 months pregnant.

My dear Mom was born March 23, 1920 in Camperville, Manitoba. She was a member of the Pine Creek Band and when she was six years old she was sent to the Pine Creek Indian Residential School where she spent the next twelve years. While I was in Regina, I was extremely lucky to track down two photos of her at the school. The first one was taken when she was 10 years old and the second one was taken when she was 15 years old. Her maiden name was Moosetail.

Melanie, aged 10: fifth person from the left                                                                                       Melanie - aged 15: fifth person from the left

 

The next photo was taken in 1963 and is a view of our backyard. The house was located next to a large parking lot that belonged to an Asian wholesaler. It was pretty much our playground. It was located on Union Street, just a couple of blocks down from Vancouver's Chinatown. We lived in a neighbourhood that was populated by families of Chinese Canadians, Black Canadians, and poor whites who resided in the rooming houses that were pretty much everywhere. Our house was located two doors down from Sarah's Cafe, a small business owned by a Black woman who used to give us candy. I don't remember ever going into her cafe to eat, probably because we were so poor ourselves.

 

We lived about 3/4 blocks down from Main Street & Unions Street. This is the very first London Drugs Store location in Canada. I remember going there quite a bit as a 3 and 4 year old child. Ohhhhh...the memories!

 

This is my oldest brother Robert, although we all called him Bobbie. He was my Mom's first born. She gave birth to him when she was 20 years old. Bobbie worked as a landscaper in Manitoba and never married. He had a very close relationship with my Mom and they often exchanged letters and gifts with each other. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke and a heart attack in 2003 and I think he passed away in 2004. I am not sure of the date because we never got notified of his passing. I do know that the stroke took away his ability to speak and that was when all contact ended between him and my Mom. When my Mom was in the hospital, I heard about his Passing away and I had to break the news to my Mom. That was difficult, but I think she probably already suspected he had died. He was my oldest brother and the few times I did get to meet him was great. He had a fantastic sense of humor and was good man and a good son.

 

This next photo is of my eldest sister Gladys sitting with our Kookum. It was taken in the early 70s.

Gladys had five children, all of whom were given up to Social Services. Gladys passed away in mid 2000 from cancer. She didn't seem to have a very happy life. The next photo is a very early one of two of Glady's five children. She actually kept these two until Deano was around five years old and then for some reason decided to hand them over to Children's Aid. They kept in contact with her right up until she passed away. I am in contact with Melanie and Dean and am very happy to have them in my life. They in turn have maintained contact with their half-sister who is part Chinese and lives somewhere in Vancouver. She apparently fears to get in contact with us and in respecting her wishes, I haven't tried to make any attempts. All I would hope for her to know is that things are the way they are and you gotta look at the bigger picture. We are all products of a very racist system and are stilling having to struggle to get over the vicious brutality that many of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents endured just for being Indian. Thing is, I remember being 9 years old and had a very unnerving experience while I was attending an all white elementary school in Richmond, BC. After weeks of being on the receiving end of racist slurs and taunts, I remember making a pact with myself where I decided then and there that "they would never make me feel ashamed for being Indian and I have kept promise. I rejoice in being Cree, in seeing other Cree's pointing with their lips, in getting insider jokes and in being able to share my humour through my art.

Melanie and Dean are both super adults. When ever I get phone calls from them I always seem to be smiling when I hang up the phone. They make me feel loved and to my dearest nephew and niece, I just want you both to know that I love you with all of my heart and am always here for you!

This is a photo of my  older brother Glen (David). I didn't know my brothers very well as our family consisted of three sets of children. Glen passed away on December 19, 1995 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was married to Alma and had two sons, Dwayne and Marvin. I got to meet both kids when they were just tiny little ones. I was only around 10 at the time and I used to babysit the two boys. I remember selling pop bottles and taking that little bit of money to a second hand store with Dwayne in tow. I bought him his first pair of leather walking shoes and had a great time teaching him how to walk. Alma moved back to Manitoba after she left my brother...last I heard she was living in Toronto...she isn't the woman in the photo. I have no idea who she is!

 

This is my only surviving brother. The photo was taken when he was 15 years old. The next two are quite recent and were taken when he was on a trip to Las Vegas. He currently lives in Honolulu. I am just getting to know him and feel blessed to be able to develop a relationship with him. We seem to have the same type of personalities with regards to honesty and making life work for us no matter how many hurdles may be in the way. I  always remember him for the nicknames he used to make up for my older sisters. He called Connie LBN, which stood for Long Black Neck! I used to really giggle every time I heard him call her that.

 

This is my older sister Darlene with her new born baby Melanie. Unfortunately Melanie was adopted into a non-native family who cut all contact with us once the adoption was legal. I managed to track her down with the help of a very dear friend of mine. Darlene had passed away in 1996 while I was an exchange student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. When I returned home, my Mom and I spoke about trying to locate Melanie. This actually didn't happen until I was gifted her address and phone number. I called her right away and explained who I was and she hanged the phone up on me! I tried calling again, but the line was busy, so I wrote her a long letter. I never received a response and I let it rest until one of my younger siblings Mildred made a comment that "We should just share the money amongst ourselves"...Never would I allow this to happen! Darlene left that for Melanie and I made it my duty to make sure she received it. I warily called her again and spoke really fast, throwing in a "Please don't hang up" every now and then...I was relieved that she actually listened and it was great! We got to reconnect with her on my birthday, April 17, 1999. My Mom was so happy to see her as were we all. I lost contact again in 2003, but managed to find her again in 2007. We have exchanged emails, addresses, phone numbers and I also have her adopted father's number just in case!!! I am not letting her go this time! I love Melanie with all my heart and can only wish the very best for her and her son Christopher.

This is my older sister Sadie. She was only 15 years old in this photo. She passed away just after she turned 19 years old after falling three floors from the rear of the New World Hotel located on Powell Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her death was devastating to my Mom as they both had a very close relationship with each other. I know for a fact that Sadie was my Mom's favourite daughter. It was such a sad time at the funeral and for a long time after her death. It is sad that her life was so short. One of the favourite things she used to love to do is sing Country songs. I heard she was quite good at it and even sang on stage in some of the local pubs in town.

This is my dear, dear older sister Connie when she was 15 years old. She was 4 years older than me. She passed away at the tender age of 24 from liver disease that was a result of alcohol abuse. I was so totally crushed when I heard she had died. I had a close knit relationship with her and I miss her dearly! I was lucky enough to speak to her about a month before she died and I begged her to sign herself into the hospital. I told her that I would visit her so she wouldn't be lonely. Unfortunately, she didn't and I suppose even if she did the damage on her body was already permanent. She ended up dying alone in the hospital after apparently trying to sign herself out a few hours earlier, but the hospital refused. As a child, Connie's special talent was her interest in clothing. When she was 12 years old she apparently had hand-sewn herself a tight long black skirt and snuck off to school wearing it. Of course the school contacted my Mom. Boy was she upset with Connie. Apparently the stitches were visible and the skirt was skin tight (smile). Poor Connie! I think if it had been a different era, maybe she would have turned out to be a successful fashion designer. The next photo was taken in 1965. She is holding the youngest member of our family. The location was the corner of Hastings and Glen Drive in Vancouver. There used to be a drive-in joint called Lion's Burger located on the  SE corner  and my brother Johnny worked there slinging burgers.

This is a photo of me when I was a chubby, cute little innocent baby sitting in Stanley Park. (smile)

 

            

A couple of images of my older sisters and younger siblings. I don't have a relationship with the younger ones and find it difficult to refer to them as "sisters". As you probably figured out, my family has a lot of baggage...a lot of sadness...a lot of disfunction. My relationship with them ended when I made the decision to remove myself from their abusive behavior towards me. My life has been so much better.  I went to counseling for awhile to deal with stuff in the past and then when the time came, I entered college, graduated with a BFA and then an MFA. After not seeing them for a number of years, one of the comments hurled out at me  while we were at the hospital for my Mom was Sharon stating in that smart assed way of her that she thought I was going to be a career student, what with all that time I had spent there. I know she has no idea what it takes to get to the level of a Master's Degree because the farthest she has ever gone was grade twelve and at the time that was a big deal in the family.  I didn't bother to respond because I figure there is no point! After a 6 year absence from the pettiness and the envy, I realized that I had made the right decision to remove myself from their lives.  Over time I have learned that I am much better off surrounding myself  with caring, loving and respectful friends, all of whom I love dearly! My word of advice to anyone finding themselves in a similar situation, do what is best for you! Get the hell out and develop relationships that are healthy ones! That is what life is all about! 

This last photo was taken in Ruskin, BC...five of us were shipped off to a foster home for one year. We may all be smiling, but that's what one does when told to. Some of my memories from that place were good. but mostly because they had a farm with a couple of horses, cows and pigs. I have always loved animals.  Other memories I still carry with me and if I think about some of the things that happened to me while I was there I tend to find myself getting choked with emotions. The foster mother used to be ok with us going to the bathroom at night and then suddenly it became an issue. Her new rule was that we had to call to her to ask for permission to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, I suddenly developed the urge to go every single night and she got tired of me waking her up to ask for permission to leave my room. She made a new rule and we were no longer allowed to go to the bathroom once we went to bed. I woke up one morning and found myself urinating in my bed. I was mortified. I took my undies and walked into the woods where I dug a hole and buried them. About a week later Mildred and I were called into the house. because she found a pair of undies stained with urine in the washing machine. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the hell they got there so I said nothing when she asked us both whose they belonged to. She did this repeatedly and finally started walking up the steps to our bedroom. She said that if she made it to the top of the stairs whose ever underpants they were, that person was going to get it! As she neared to top step, I finally confessed. I ran halfway up and told her they were mine and that I had peed the bed. She gave me such a beating! I was terrified! In the end, she went all the way up the steps and pulled the sheets from both our beds only to find out that we had both wet the bed!  After that, I made sure I relieved myself when I needed to. I used to wait until Mildred was asleep (or she would definitely have snitched on me) and then I would carefully and slowly climb from my bed to the top of a dresser where I gained access to a small window and I would crawl out the window and relieve myself on the roof. At the age of 8, I did this in secret for half a year!  I was terrified each time, but if a kid has to go, a kid has to go! Oddly enough, when we were finally returned back into my Mom's care, the first thing she did was show us where she plugged in a nightlight so we could see our way to the bathroom if we needed to go (SIGH)!!! With that bit of reasurrance, I never had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night after that! The ability to breathe without experiencing stress is something I always try to search for in my life!

Oh...one last word...my three younger half-siblings are named Mildred, Sharon and Dorothy. All live in BC and I do not and will not have anything to do with them. Life got better for me once I made the decision not to have poison in my life (smile).