Op-ed: Honouring the strength of our Indigenous matriarchs
- Jeanelle Mandes | March 20, 2019
For our March issue, we are honouring our Indigenous women. We wanted to try something different. I went out searching for female journalists and writers to contribute to this month’s paper. All female Indigenous writers. All stories based on Indigenous women!
All of the contributing writers are women I went to university with, who were my instructors, strong community leaders and my past coworkers. It was nice reconnecting with everyone.
The idea of giving our writers the chance to pitch stories based on Indigenous women was exciting. Hearing all their pitches was incredible and refreshing. There are so much stories out there that are untouched and we gave that chance to shine a spotlight on our Indigenous women.
We had a few stories that fell through due to the inability of connecting with the sources to meet our deadline.
I wanted to take the time to acknowledge an important story that didn’t make it into this month’s paper. I pitched to write a story on Saskatchewan’s oldest Indigenous matriarch. I’ve done a story on seeking Saskatchewan’s oldest Indigenous peoples a few years back. Through research and public call-outs, I’ve found our province’s oldest Indigenous people – all three were women. Sadly, two of those women had passed on.
Sarazine Ratt, a Denesuline from English River, passed away at the age of 104 in 2016. She had accomplished a lot in her life. Sarazine was married to Frank Ratt who died a long time ago. They never had any children but she raised her nephew, Velmore Aubichon who is in his late 60s.
Sarazine attended residential school in the early 20s in Beauval where she learned how to speak French, Latin, Cree and Dené. As a multi-linguist, Sarazine taught Dené syllabics at school in the 70s. Her community always acknowledged her birthday by having a community celebration with cake and a community meal.
Philomene Moise, who lived on the Muskowekwan First Nation, passed away at the age of 105 years old in the same year as Sarazine. Philomene never took food for granted and always ate wild meats, soup bannock, porridge and other traditional foods. She lost her eyesight and resided in the Lestock care home for almost nine years. Her community also celebrated her birthday yearly.
Sarazine and Philomene will be missed by their families and communities.
Flora Weenonis from the Big River First Nation is the remaining oldest Indigenous woman in Saskatchewan. Flora will be celebrating her 107th birthday this month! Her late husband, Thomas Weenonis, passed away years ago. Together, they had about ten children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Flora continues to speak her Cree language and practice her culture, eating traditional foods like wild meat and still refuses to eat fast foods. Her community celebrates her birthday with a community feast.
It was amazing to listen to these three women’s stories on how they lived their lives, their hobbies, what their diet consisted of and how they stayed active. Covering this assignment will always be a memorable story that will stay with me forever.
Speaking of matriarchs, I am reminded by the strong women who made an impact in my life. My mothers Olive and Linda and my traditionally adopted moms Loretta and the late Delores. All four women have made me the woman I am today. I’ve learned the importance of valuing family and embracing my role as a mother through them. I’ve learned about the hard times through their stories. I recall during my pregnancy, I was afraid of becoming a mother. All four of these women guided me throughout my pregnancy and provided me with the knowledge and tools to take on my journey as a mother. I was taught how to cook and bake, how to sew, bead, basic life hacks and the power of ceremony. I was blessed then and I am blessed today. Nanaskamon.
This month, take the time to reflect on our Indigenous women. Acknowledge their presence, the contributions and impact they made in your life, recognize their strengths and embrace who they are to you and your community. Our Indigenous women shouldn’t only be recognized on Mothers Day or international women’s day but every single day.