December 7, 2014
My counselor and I were talking about something or other when I mentioned that my sisters were technically my half-sisters. I’ve been going to counseling for years now and she states “you have never told me they were your half-sisters.” I could have sworn I had mentioned it in passing. However my sisters and I have never thought of one another as half of anything. My sisters are white skinned and I am brown skinned too but it was all just accepted. To us, we were simply brother and sisters. To us, this was our normal. The only difference being that they have a different father than mine. Maybe it had something to do with the way we were brought up.
I was never raised in the same household as my sisters. I grew up with my mother and father as an ‘only-child’. Which I always found odd since they both came from large families. I'm pretty sure most of my cousins grew up with siblings. My mother gave birth to my sisters a few years before me. My sisters grew up with my mother’s parents on our reservation. We were happy to see one another on our many trips back home to visit them and my family. My parents did their best to keep a connection alive between us. As a child I already realized the stark contrast in our upbringing and environment.
At this young age I realized my sisters lived very different lives compared to my own. Their reserve home was filled with addictions, poverty, violence, over-crowding. My home in the city was not perfect but had stability and security. Although my parents were alcoholics, my father worked all his life and provided a comfortable life. Although we are poor and go without food once or twice, our needs are still met. My parents would eventually quit drinking when I was 8 or 9. My sisters and I would escape our home lives & distance with several letters sent back and forth that would go on well into our teen years. We live very different lives but there is a close bond that the Creator has gifted us with that continues to this very day. I still have all those letters somewhere in an old shoe box.
While growing up, my sister’s birth father and my mother’s early life would remain a mystery to us. In our home it was forbidden to talk about such things. My mother’s past was a shroud of heavy guarded secrecy to us. The emotions around it were tangible. I never dwelled on the subject but there were times I would push it. There I was as a small child following my mother around asking “who is my sister’s father? Why won’t you tell us?” The only answer was that he was dead. I knew from the tone of my mother’s voice that pushing it any further would land me in hot water. I would stomp off unsatisfied and play in my room. I would eventually forget about the subject and carry on with being a child.
Eventually as a teenager we would finally have some of the answers we were looking for. My mother had a brief fling with a white man. Her family was not pleased. She only knew his first name and never really knew anything about him. As he packed Christmas presents into his car he told her he had to leave for B.C. He told her that he would be back. My mother had always told us he had died. But she would tell us that she believed he was dead because she saw a news story that said a man had died in a car accident in B.C. She only believed it was him because there were Christmas gifts in the wreckage. She had no photographs or record of him. She never heard from him again. It was later she found out she was pregnant.
She hid the pregnancy from her family for as long as she could. She would have my sisters two months early. They were premature and identical twins. She said she never had the chance to hold them. They were whisked away to incubators and stayed there for a month. Eventually they were released and there my mother was; scared, young, First Nations, poor, alcoholic, single, first-time parent, never taught how to be a mother. From what I can piece together was that she was in a very tough place in her life. She had a basement apartment of her own with two new born babies. She said one would cry just as she would lay the other one down for bed. At times she would sit there and cry with them. She began to drink heavily. Family became concerned for her and my sister’s well-being. The memory she relays to me decades later is her on a bridge holding one of my sisters. A man stops his car and proceeds to talk my mother out of jumping. Maybe it was around this time welfare was called.
My mother’s parents were the ones who would call child social services. They were the ones who had them apprehended and taken into the system. They would eventually be placed with them as well. Our Grandparents raised them as if they were their own. Later in life my Kokum would drunkenly yell at my parents that she was going to take me as well. She never did of course. Their were drunken rumors of who my sister's father was and how the story went but none of it true. They would eventually look after our Moshum when he developed Alzheimer’s and our Kokum with alcoholism.
My one sister would tell me that Moshum & Kokum were her parents. She never cared about who her biological father was because our Moshum was her father as far as she was concerned. My other sister was the one who initiated the conversation by way of a letter to our mother. My sister was pregnant with her first child and would be our mother’s first grandchild. The birth of my mother’s first grandchild was a turning point in our lives.
I could never proclaim to know why my mother made the decisions she had made in her life. I look back and I am reminded of how I was at her age when she became pregnant. I look back and remember my own drinking days. She does not talk much about that time anymore. I feel she has moved on in her own way from her past as well. I see and feel like my sisters have too. I cannot judge her for her choices in her life because she has not judged mine.
I felt like sharing some of our story. I don’t really have a clear answer as to why I wanted to share it. Maybe because there was something in this story that I had to let go of too. Maybe it was a way to look at how First Nations family relationships can be dysfunctional and yet come together in adversity. We never dwelled on the fact that they were taken away by social services. We never dwelled on the fact that we were only half siblings. We were never victims of our circumstances. They were my saving grace. I would not be here if it hadn’t been for my sisters.
As children, you never really understand the questions that you have in your heart. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of asking questions to finally grow into your truths. My story is no more special than your own. I hope you share your story with the world as well! I guess I just had to let it go. Thank you for taking the time to read part of my journey.