Finding Our Roots: A Journey to Edmonton

Finding Our Roots: A Journey to Edmonton

Five short months ago I discovered my Métis ancestry. In an effort to work towards Truth and Reconciliation, and to understand my family roots, I set an intention to actively learn more. I have spent the summer, reading, participating in conversations within the Metis community, researching our family ancestry, taking the University of Alberta Indigenous Canada course and most recently, travelling to Edmonton to visit historic sites where my ancestors lived. 

I walk this journey delicately, mindful not to appropriate a culture that is not mine. While I have Métis ancestry, I am aware of the mixed feelings that emerge when people announce they have ‘discovered they are Indigenous’. I recognize the privilege I grew up with, never experiencing racism.  I am aware that my fair complexion has granted me favourable treatment, even more so than my mom and her siblings just one generation back who were often questioned about their ethnicity. Their truth was hidden from them, and their Métis culture was not passed down. As our truth unfolds, we are learning and unlearning.

The word metis means mixed ancestry, while the word Métis refers to a distinct culture originating in the early 1700’s in Red River, Manitoba when Scottish and French fur traders married Cree and Ojibway women and created their own language, songs, dance, traditions and governance. Within Canada, to be Métis, one must be able to meet the following criteria:

  • Self identify as Métis
  • Prove family lineage back to the Métis Nation in Red River
  • Be accepted by the Métis community

Our Métis ancestry comes from my mom’s side of the family. Her mom (my Nanna) grew up in the prairies, eventually moving to BC to pursue a nursing career.  All four of her grandparents were Métis. From Red River, her grandparents and great grandparents travelled west and played a prominent role in the development of Fort Edmonton in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

With flights from Abbotsford to Edmonton costing less than a tank of gas, we decided to embark on a four day journey to Edmonton.  We had no idea how rich in history our days would be.

My mom comes from the Fraser family.  Colin Fraser was a piper for George Simpson, governor of the Hudson Bay Company. He manned Jasper House for 18 years and worked out of Fort Edmonton. His wife, Nancy Beaudry, and mother of their 12 children, was at one point the oldest living person in Edmonton.

We decided to visit their gravesites in the Edmonton Cemetery. (We had no idea the graveyard went on for five city blocks so finding their graves was a bit like being on the Amazing Race. With determination and very poor navigation skills we made it and said hello.)

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Edmonton was to visit the brand new Indigenous Peoples Experience in Fort Edmonton Park.  Fort Edmonton Park is now a historic site where visitors can spend the day walking through the old town, while staff dressed in period costumes teach of Edmonton’s early history.  The Indigenous Peoples Experience is a new addition to the park and showcases Canada’s history of Indigenous people including First Nations, Métis and Inuit.  The multimedia exhibit is a blend of displays, stories and artifacts, intentionally woven throughout the seasons, each representing a phase of life. I was moved by the words so eloquently projected on the walls.

Mid way through, we turned the corner and entered a room telling the story of Canada’s Métis.  We expected to read and learn.  We did not expect to see a photo of my mom’s grandma as a child with her siblings and their mother (Nancy) on the very first panel.  The photo described Nancy Beaudry as a Métis Matriarch. We learned that the Fraser family owned some of the original plots of land along the North Saskatchewan River where Fort Edmonton Park is now located. Jasper House Hotel (the trading post where Colin and Nancy lived) is situated within the park along 1855 Street. As we walked through the Metis exhibit we saw photo after photo of our ancestors. My mom, now in her 70’s, only learned she was Metis last winter. It was awesome to watch her step into the Métis exhibit and find her past.

The Indigenous Peoples Experience concludes with a video presentation highlighting the mistreatment of Indigenous people, showing graphic images from residential schools. Following the film, a staff member stepped forward to share her personal story of her mom’s survival at residential school. The film concludes with gratitude, thanking guests for working towards Truth and Reconciliation. These words inspired me:


The word ‘Wâhkôhtôwin’ projects near the exit, meaning ‘All my Relations’ or ‘We are all related’, inviting all people of all cultures to walk together.

We flew to Edmonton to learn of our ancestry.  We flew home knowing our family. We are all related.

Wâhkôhtôwin.

The Spirit of my Ancestors: Discovering our Métis Roots

The Spirit of my Ancestors: Discovering our Métis Roots

Last month I received a surprise phone call from the Provincial Government of BC informing me I had won the BC Medal of Good Citizenship. I was asked to complete some paperwork to prepare for the media release. Part way through the form, I was stumped by a simple question: Do you identify as an Indigenous Person (First Nations, Métis or Inuit)?  This simple yes/no question was the impetus I needed to discover my family history.

I grew up knowing that I had a very small percentage of Indigenous heritage from many generations back.  As a child, my mom and her five dark haired and brown eyed siblings were not told much about their Indigenous roots.

My mom Karen is in the middle, pictured here with her brothers Jack, Bob and Don, and her sister Lynda. (Her youngest sister Connie was not born yet.)

The only ‘fact’ that seemed to travel generation to generation was that Simon Fraser, the explorer, had a twin brother named Colin Fraser and that as Colin and Simon headed west, Colin had connected with an Indigenous women somewhere across the Plains. Besides the relation to the famous explorer, nothing else seemed to get passed down. My mom and her siblings were told to say they were a mix of Scottish, English and Welsh when people would question their heritage. My aunts share stories of racism and discrimination they would feel when others would doubt the truth of their reply. My grandma did not speak of her Aboriginal roots and convinced her children they were a blend of European ancestry.  Perhaps subconsciously my mom grew into this role.  My boys call my mom ‘Nonna’, an Italian name for grandma, and she can probably out-cook most Italian women in the kitchen. However, the truth is we do not have a single Italian relative.

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Team Blakeway – Surviving the Storm

Team Blakeway – Surviving the Storm

Glennon Doyle, one of my favourite authors, suggests writing from your scars and not your wounds. Simply put, she suggests that writing from a place of pain is too much for others to handle and leads to readers ‘feeling sorry for you’, whereas writing from your scars helps others as you have moved through your pain and are able to write from a place of reflection.

I hate to detour from great advice, but I’ve decided to write in the midst of pain. Why? Because I am not the only one struggling right now. We are experiencing a global pandemic and living with pain has become a shared experience. The stress contagion is high in our community and I know few people who are not dealing with heavy emotions in one way or another. I write publicly because I know I am not alone, and perhaps my feelings and emotions will relate to yours. Or perhaps a time will come when these words will help you move through a difficult space. Regardless, I write as an outlet of comfort, and a reminder to myself that brighter days are ahead.  

So.. what pain am I referring to? An all too familiar pain. The pain of watching a family member suffer. The pain of missing life as we know it.  Four years ago, our oldest son Jaden became quite ill. After a month of unexplained symptoms, we ended up in emergency at BC Children’s hoping for answers. To be honest, we were hoping for a prescription that would fix him so we could return to our regular routines. I remember feeling irritated by the seven hour wait, thinking that would be the longest part of our journey. I truly wasn’t prepared for the nurse to tell us our son had a disease without a cure.

2017 was the beginning of our battle with Crohn’s disease. As parents it was heartbreaking to watch our child suffer knowing there was little we could do to help him get through. Instead, we had to put our faith in the medical system and hope his team of doctors could help him heal and work towards remission. Night after night my husband and I would say ‘I wish it was me instead of him.’  We began ‘Team Jaden’ and focussed our efforts on fundraising to help find a cure. Our friends and family rallied with us and as Jaden’s health started to improve, so did our fundraising efforts. Since 2017 Team Jaden has helped raise over $10 000 for Crohn’s research (thank you friends and family!).  

Luckily, with outstanding care from BC Children’s Hospital, Jaden is doing well. Every seven weeks he receives a day long infusion of a biologic drug that lowers inflammation in his body and allows him to thrive. Besides this minor inconvenience, Jaden has few side effects and lives a happy, healthy, life. As a family, we thought we had worked through our hardest days. When we had wished it was us instead of him, we had no idea that wish would come true.

On December 20, 2020 my husband Shawn went to emergency with stomach pain. It was 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning and our kids were asleep. He figured if he could get in early, he would be prescribed the right type of pain killer and get home in time for a mid-morning hike with our dogs. He suspected the pain was merely the result of a pulled muscle from working out.  For those of you that don’t know Shawn, there is nothing he loves more than being active.  After recovering from two spinal surgeries Shawn was back in great health and working out daily with long term goals of completing an Iron Man and the 5 Peaks running series. He was excited to begin a new assignment within the RCMP working with youth as a school liaison officer. Life was on track minus a sudden onset of stomach pain. Like we had with Jaden, we expected the doctor to hand Shawn a prescription so we could get on with our busy lives. 

A few hours later the plan of hiking with the dogs faded away and Shawn was admitted to the hospital. By Christmas he had undergone a series of tests and procedures and received the same diagnosis as our son: Crohn’s Disease. Like Jaden, Shawn’s disease was labelled as ‘severe’.

We are now eight weeks into this journey and we do not have a happy ending yet. We are in the thick of it. Biopsies are inconclusive and there is too much inflammation and scar tissue for clear imaging. Surgery is likely but that is on hold until drugs take effect and swelling is reduced. There is a 30% chance his body will not respond to the drugs he is on, though it will take months before we know if there is progress. Shawn lives in chronic pain, is unable to sleep, unable to work, unable to exercise and unable to function for more than a few hours a day. The road to recovery is still long.  It is heartbreaking to see someone you love suffer.

Despite this we have hope. We have watched our son fight this disease with strength and courage. We have witnessed the amazing transformation that can happen once the right drugs are found.  We are grateful to live in Canada with an amazing medical system that covers incredibly expensive treatment. For now, we live with the pain, and we find ways to manage. 

Self-care has moved from an indulgence to a necessity and we make effort to get outside, to walk, to rest and to practice gratitude.  Our lives have slowed down (though with a pandemic we are not missing much). We turn to yoga, meditation, journaling and support of friends and family to move through the pain and manage mental wellness. (Other moments are less graceful. I cry, Shawn gets quiet and I order a surplus of things we don’t need from Amazon.)

As a dad, Shawn now looks up to Jaden as his hero – his role model who endured this pain ahead of him and navigated treatment with strength and grace.  As a family we continue to learn about this disease, and we will continue to fundraise to find a cure.  Team Jaden is now Team Blakeway as we have just registered for our 5th year of the Gutsy Walk. We will dream of the day when a cure is found for this lifelong disease. https://crohnsandcolitiscanada.akaraisin.com/ui/GutsyWalk2021/p/e4f76406ae034c698c76980304492491 Donations and/or participation are gratefully appreciated.

For now, we acknowledge that it’s ok to not be ok. These days are long, but they are not forever. In the words of the great Maya Angelou, every storm runs out of rain. 

Dear 2021 – We Are Counting on You

Dear 2021 – We Are Counting on You

Dear 2021,

I am writing to let you know we have high hopes for you. We apologize in advance if we seem a tag disgruntled. Your predecessor, 2020, was not well liked by many. We tried to be encouraging and supportive but unfortunately, 2020 just didn’t get any better so we decided to say goodbye. We welcome you, 2021, and we are counting on you to lift our spirits. Please renew our faith as your year unfolds. In case you are wondering what we are looking for, I have outlined some of our hopes:

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10 Simple Strategies to Promote Wellbeing

10 Simple Strategies to Promote Wellbeing

I’m worried about you. I’m worried about all of us. As winter sets in and the days get darker, COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in our community and around the world. As this happens, our collective stress level also rises, impacting our wellbeing. We are all grieving. Some of us are grieving the loss of freedom to live carefree, or the loss of a lifestyle we took for granted. We are grieving the loss of personal connections with friends and family. For some, grief is more substantial, grieving the loss of a loved one.

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The Silver Lining of COVID-19

The Silver Lining of COVID-19

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Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

As I woke up this morning, I couldn’t help but smile at all the good in the world despite COVID-19.  I’m amazed at the acts of kindness, humanitarian efforts, and creativity that surrounds us as we all adjust to our new normal.

This has me thinking back to lessons we learned in History classes, and I can’t help but wonder if part of the stories were left untold.  When we learned about dark times such as the Great Depression or World War I and II, we only read about what went wrong. I know people died or that people suffered, so somehow, I just assumed everyone was collectively miserable.  I never stopped to think that during those difficult times people also helped their neighbors, laughed together, or experienced happiness. Continue reading

My Mom’s Journey with COVID-19. Please Stay Home.

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘This is Not My Story – This is OUR Story‘ and I encouraged people to see how we are in this together and need to respond by thinking of others first.  The post was not about me, or my family – it was about us as a collective, and the difference we can make together.

This post is much more personal.  With my mom’s permission, I am sharing her journey.  I do so not for empathy (though your positive vibes are more than welcome), but so that the story of COVID-19 becomes more personal for you.  It is my belief that stories are what connect us.  Stories inspire us, lift us up, help us heal. Through story, we begin to make sense of these crazy times, and we begin to understand why our actions matter.

My mom is a healthy, happy, and social woman. Continue reading

This is Not My Story. This is OUR Story. COVID-19 in Canada.

When we acquire knowledge, we learn.  Sometimes this happens when we explore something new and seek information.  Other times, learning happens when our experiences shift our perception and challenge our pre-existing beliefs.  As adults, there are times where we stop in our tracks and realize our previous thinking was wrong.

This is one of those times.  Like many Canadians, I am watching press conferences and reading news stories as COVID-19 spreads worldwide.  Just weeks ago, when the disease had little impact in Canada, I jumped on the bandwagon and laughed at memes of people over-reacting and clearing grocery shelves, hoarding a huge supply of essential items like toilet paper.  I assumed the panic associated with this disease was largely due to media hype and hysteria.

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Dear Students…

Dear Students…

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Dear Students,

School starts tomorrow. This brings about a mix of emotion as some of you are excited to return and see your teachers and classmates, while others may feel anxious about a new year.  You are probably wondering who your teacher will be, who will be in your class, and whether or not you will have a great year.

While you are getting ready for your first day, we, as a staff, are getting ready to greet you.  Your teachers have been in decorating classrooms, secretaries have been organizing everything you need for a smooth start up and we have been planning ways to help you have a great year. Continue reading

Rear View Reflections: Looking Back at 2018

Rear View Reflections: Looking Back at 2018

It’s New Year’s Day and social media streams are full of proclamations about the coming year and resolutions moving forward.  It’s an annual day of goal setting – making New Years resolutions for a healthier and happier self.

While I am a big fan of setting goals, I also enjoy the art of reflection – and learning from days passed before setting a plan for moving forward.  Sometimes we can learn much about ourselves by looking in the rear view mirror.  Looking back, 2018 has been a year full of learning.  Here are a few reflections I am taking Continue reading