This weekend I heard a story about someone’s grandmother and I can’t shake it.
It was told by Laureen “Blu” Waters at the last scheduled community hearing of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Please note: this story contains details that might be triggering for those who’ve experienced or witnessed violence.
Blu — who as a two-spirit Cree person uses neither he/she/they, but rather identifies as aayahkwew, which means neither man nor woman in Cree — was one of many Indigenous women, youth, transgender and two-spirit people to offer stories and recommendations at the hearing.
As Blu spoke, the rest of us — commissioners, supporters and witnesses — listened.
We heard Blu’s kokum (grandmother) was a tiny woman, about five feet tall, who’d worked two jobs to provide for Blu and Blu’s big brother after they were removed from their parents’ care. Sometimes she wouldn’t get home until 11 p.m., and so the children would have to fend for themselves.
For lunch, they’d eat canned food or raw vegetables. For dinner, Blu told us, they’d sometimes sneak off to Toronto’s High Park, where they’d hunt a goose off the pond and cook it up on a little grill they’d taken from someone’s yard. They’d save some meat for their kokum to eat when she got home.
“That’s how we had to live, right? Because we didn’t have enough money,” Blu said. “I remember all the times she went without for us.”
On weekends they’d camp out in cornfields, and their kokum would teach them how to collect traditional medicines. And then when Blu was 10, social workers placed Blu with a white family.
Blu felt like a “double agent” living a “double life,” going to church on weekdays and collecting medicines on weekends. “I had to convert to Catholicism.”
Blu urged the commissioners to recommend more supports for grandparents and other extended family. Instead of paying foster parents, we should “give the money to the families,” Blu said. “We make the original family members of the children be made to feel like nothing.”
Blu then told the Inquiry about the day kokum was murdered and then raped, after death, by a family friend. Blu recalled vivid details about the day it happened — finding part of kokum’s teeth in the kitchen, and another part across the house, by the TV. Blu remembered the rust-coloured shirt the killer was wearing, and the stain on it that Blu mistook for strawberry jam. Kokum always offered her guests something sweet, Blu said.
Listening to Blu’s story, I thought of my own grandmother. She was tiny, too, and I loved her homemade strawberry jam. I can’t imagine how I would process a loss like Blu’s.
Of the four people I heard give statements at the Inquiry, three talked about the child welfare system, and how it had failed their families in some way. I’ll be interviewing Commissioner Qajaq Robinson about this connection — and will let you know what I find out.
I’ll also continue to follow Justine’s story. My latest is about part one of the trial that will determine whether her children are placed permanently in government care or returned to her. While I wait for the trial to resume in June, I’m wrestling with which story to report next.