Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Meaning of LIFE according to Me

Today is my birthday and I am feeling wonderful, grateful, and content.

I’ve come to realize that each year is indeed a blessing and should be celebrated. It is not the number of years you walked this lovely planet that counts, but how you’ve walk on her. I elect to walk on her softly, with integrity, and love.

I have so much to be thankful for, and each year, my blessings multiply.

I am graciously thankful that I have a wonderful family and great friends. I am thankful that my mom is still with us. In my opinion her strength gives us strength, and helps us understand that she is still here to continue to teach us about acceptance and love.  I am also thankful that social media helps me reconnect with friends, and stay connect with family. 
Birthday flowers

I find myself, feeling more empathy for people, as I get older.  And I am more willing to forgive and accept circumstances whatever they may be. Like they say, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. I don’t know who coined that phase, but it’s a good one, huh. Combine with daily meditation, and I am good to go. Interestingly, when you approach life that way, almost everything becomes the small stuff.

A key for me is to not take myself seriously. I admit it is something easier said, than to do, but I strive each day to let go of my attachment to my ego. When your ego is bigger than your humanity, the meaning of LIFE is lost. And life is about relationships and how these relationships affect your life and those around you.

This past year for me has been more focused on family. Almost a year ago, one of my brothers died suddenly and a sister came too close to dying.  When someone you love and have known all your life passes, it can’t but put LIFE into perspective.  After the shattering reality, and then finally the acceptance of losing someone, this can change you in a very profound way.  Sometimes this changes is brief, and other times it can change how you live. For me it is the latter.

I have come to regard my family as life’s treasures. My relationship with my family and friends is to me an exercise in love and acceptance.  Paradoxically, years ago, this was the advice given me by my brother Patrick. Although it took a few years before I embraced the notion that LOVE does make a difference. Our conversation stayed with me like a seed that bloomed when I was ready to accept it. However, it is not as simple as saying “I love you”, but it is the intent behind the act that counts.  
My birthday wish is that my family and friends too will recognize how very special they are and how our relationship to each other is really our journey. Moreover, we are in control of how this journey will unfold, either lovingly, or, in conflict.  If you really get “it”, trust me, there will be a shift towards magnanimity and with that comes acceptance, love, and forgiveness. Forgiveness, not just for others but to forgive yourself, is fundamental.  If we strive for that we will always be respectful and interact with one another with integrity by choosing our actions and words cautiously.

Most of the time our music is the conversation playing in the background, like a tape on a loop, in our mind.  This “noise” sets the tempo in our heart, and creates the mood of our dance, which is LIFE.  Why don’t we do this instead, purged the negative background conversation and let the music come from our heart. This music is pure and comes from a place of LOVE and GRATITUDE.  May your life’s journey be filled with Blessings, Love, and Peace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Dene' Warrior

( I wrote this in 1993 )


I still see him walking down Franklin Avenue in Fort McMurray, Alberta, as though it was yesterday. This image is etched in my mind. Imagery that stirs precise and real emotions within me. I see my dad, Baba, is what we called him. He was a warm, generous and a wise  man. He loved taking walks. (My brother Rossi walking down Franklin is the spitting image of him.) 

Mama, Baba and the babies of the family, me and Max!
He was a hunter and trapper. He didn't speak English, just Denesuline, our traditional language. 

He was a man of medium build, his movements gave the impression of true strength and confidence. Head head  held high. His hair thick, cut very short and was snow white. His eyes, clear, dancing, thoughtful. Steady was his stride, not too fast and not too slow, with his hands firmly held behind his back he walked. 

What might he be thinking as he is walking along in this city?

Might he be thinking, how the afternoon summer sun feels hot and the slight breeze feels soothing? 

Might be he remembering, years earlier in another place in simpler times when he use to take some of his younger children to Holy Angels Residential school playground. Taking them there to play on the swings and to read at the priest's house in the summer?  You know, he had nineteen children, sixteen surviving. He had ten sons and six daughters, and grandchildren who he raised along with his own. 

Might he be thinking how easy it was to make his children happy by just taking them for a walk on the dusty gravel road in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. (Dohead) In those days very few if any cars whizzing by, but he could hear in the distance the trotting of hoofbeats that he knew belonged to Leo the waterman’s horses. Perhaps if it were a Monday he might have heard the PWA jet overhead. Might he be thinking, how as he walked silently, his children softly murmuring and laughing amongst themselves that his life just could not get anymore perfect.
Algar Tower, Alberta

While he enjoyed the warmth of the sun, feeling the cool afternoon breeze, what might he be thinking? 

Might he be thinking of a time and place where his spirit was truly free.  (Luezan TuĂ©) where the birds  singing and wildlife are so near you can hear them in the bushes?  Perhaps he was thinking about how clear the water is that you can see the huge fish swimming in lake? Where he could hear the sound of waves gently rolling in and see the forming of small indentations on the perfectly white and beautiful sand dunes , which was as inviting as any sandy beaches of distant lands. In the distance the sound of the loons, which provides him useful information about the activity around the lake. The sky a bright blue and peppered with cumulus clouds. 

Simply beautiful.  A time never forgotten. 

Is he remembering sitting by an open fire, enjoying fresh brewed tea and freshly made bannock, as he listened to stories told by his old friend Doc Holiday? Is he recalling that he too told some of his own stories, surely his were more outrageous, and yes he knows they were.  Indeed, he was a great storyteller. He was also a very cultural man who lived in harmony with nature. He never gossip or said a bad word about anyone. 

Baba and Freddy
What might he be thinking while he walked in the hot summer heat? 

Perhaps, about the perfect little log house he built out of nearby trees for his family in Doghead.   And how when he entered the porch, he had to struggle with the many pelts hanging overhead drying. Those days before the BC Bennett Dam diminished the water line and emptied the marshes, when trapping provided a generous bounty. 

As soon as he entered warm air from the wood stove hits his face and the smell of cooking stirred up the hunger he had been suppressing.  Someone would shout: “Close the door!” and he wrangled with all the shoes and boots in his way but he finally gets the door shut. He looked for a place to put the results from a successful trip to the trapline. You know, he was a good trapper and provided well for all this children and often also had enough to share with the community.  Might he have been thinking how good it felt being in the warmth and security of  home with his wife and family after days out on the cold trapline? Could life be more perfect! 

“Town bound”, he would say. 

What might he be thinking, as he walked down Franklin Avenue that hot summer afternoon? 

Had be been thinking of how things are changing so quickly? Changes that he knew were coming, but yet, worried that they may not all be good. Was he thinking about the future for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren?  Was he thinking, if there was one thing he could teach them would be that they should strive to be happy, kind, educated, and good strong Dene? Perhaps most of all to accept the simple things in life, like being completely content knowing that you've done your very best. 

But if truth be told, I believe he was walking in silent meditation being one with the environment, being present. To know him, is to know that he was an integral part of nature and was the happiest when in his element.  His element was anywhere he was at the moment. He was at home anywhere. A man who was a strong silent type. A man of few words. Ironically, when you caught him in the mood for storytelling, you better be prepared to sit and stay awhile

He was a good man, he was our Baba, Isidore Deranger, 1909 -1993 Denesuline Nene. (Djeskelni)  (Deranger)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

THANKFULNESS does not need a Hallmark Day

Hallmark holidays sometimes drive me mad.  Some more than others, and some I totally ignore like Valentine’s Day. But Thanksgiving I always celebrate because it makes me focus my meditation on gratitude.

What is a Canadian Thanksgiving? Wikipedia identifies a number of studies that relate it back to English tradition tied to harvesting. But it is basically rooted in religion.  However, it also states that in Canada it is associated with French, English, Irish, Scottish and other immigrants who first settled into Canada.  They were just so grateful they made it across the ocean alive, this giving thanks then became tradition. The hallmark thingy just became an add on. 

In present day Canada, what does it mean? I’m not sure what it means to you. But, I think for most of us it is a time to celebrate with family for things we are grateful for in our lives. But for some it is simply an opportunity to sit down to a family dinner, some out of obligation.  
Today is Thanksgiving and I’m feeling sad. The root of my sadness is that I feel that these holidays amplify the situation of those who are less fortunate.  I think about those that don’t have family to celebrate turkey dinner with.  Especially those who don’t have children to invite them to dinner, or don’t have the money to make the dinner with all the fixing for their family, and or are away from family.  But most of all I think of those who are simply homeless. 

As you sit down with your family to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, remember those in need of family, love and a hot meal. 
 __/\__  Happy Thanksgiving __/\__ 

Friday, October 11, 2013

You know you're from Fort Chipewyan, Alberta when...

Fort Chipewyan, Alberta

  •       No matter how serious the situation, you find something to laugh about
  •       You can point with your lips pursed and moving your chin up and down in the direction of            Sesame Street
  •       Dog Head has nothing to do with dogs or their head 
  •       You know someone who grew up on Bannock and Lard Avenue     
  •       You say, “maaaaah”, or know people who say “maaaaah”
  •       May have lost money playing cards with Kim
  •       You know that in front of the Northern store is a gathering place 
  •       Cherry Hill... made you smile
  •       You got to make one more trip south, even if water is flowing over the winter road
  •       You went to Holy Angels Residence or know some who did
  •       You heard the saying, "Too late, they are fighting with knifes!"
  •       Love to have a tee shirt that says; 

When you get in? 
Who you come with? 
When you leaving?"

Friday, October 4, 2013


Left to Right Dora,Rose,Liz,Me,Mary,Annie

 I read somewhere that before we are born we pick our family. And Boy,  did I ever pick  a phenomenal group of sisters. 

I am grateful to have five beautiful sisters.  I am the youngest.  Each day I appreciate their virtues and special attributes more.  They are all so different from one another, with different styles, different views on life, and different dispositions.  But one thing they all have in common is love, strength and tenacity. Each of them is teaching me insightful life lessons.

My sisters are beautiful, courageous, and loving.


Lisa, Norma Jean,Maggie,Liz
My oldest sister is Liz.  She is lovely and youthful even as she begins her 80th decade on earth.  

When I think of her the first words that come to mind is that Liz loves life.  She enjoys herself, and dances like there is no tomorrow.  She values being around people, after all she is a social person and loves to have fun. She is enjoying being around her youngest grandchildren, and they keep her on her toes.  

I don't remember having any serious conversations with her.  Perhaps it’s our age difference, and that she left home when I was very young. But that doesn’t mean I don’t learn from her.  She is old school. The lessons I take from her are to enjoy life, walk as much as you can.  Don't worry about things out of your control. She is a person who exudes life, and always looks so beautiful. Her late husband was 16 years her junior and had a difficult time keeping up with her. 

In  fall 2019, she suffered a stroke which, left her to relearn how to walk again. 
 while in the hospital, she  fell and broke her hip, this set her back a bit,  but didn't stop her.She has tenacity, and the will to live, she put everything into her therapy, and put one foot in front of the other continued to heal and get stronger.   She is a strong determined woman. 


 Darling  Dora is strong cultural Dene woman.  . And she is  a damn good cook! The image that comes to mind is of a wise and intuitive person. She has knowledge about the traditional medicinal use of plants. Knows the best teas and their benefits.   

From her I continue to learn about dreams, plants, and stories of my childhood.  When  I was younger she would  take me visiting with her. She is a traditional story teller. And she is courageous, humorous, and has the sweetest  giggle.    

She asked me one day when I was six: “Do you want to go to school?”  All my brothers and sisters had already gone to school. I was so excited to go too.  I said: “Yes!!” She said: “Get your coat on and let’s go.” 

I will always remember our walk to the residential boarding school. 

She was the cook at residence so I saw her all the time. When we were home from school, she often told us ghost stories in the dark before bed. I remember listening to her stories, and she would rhythmically move her feet while she told the story, when she stopped moving, I knew was scary part  was coming.  

Whether she knows it or not, she is the most similar of all of us to our Mom.  She is happiest when younger grandchildren are around her. And she is comfortable having a house full of boys, with their crazy energy and laughter. She is fluent and in Dene.


Sweet adorable Annie, is the sister who never fails to give me the biggest smile and the tightest hug when greeting me. “I Love you my baby sister,” she says as she squeezes me tight. When I think of Annie, I think, this small person can move mountains with sheer determination.She is fluent and in Dene.

She is a practical woman, a person who is a problem solver and one way or another she gets what she wants. She taught  Denesuline language for many years. She continues to teach me the value of speaking our language and how it connects us to who we are.

She is very well known in Fort Chipewyan and loved by everyone.  

Sadly, she has early onset dementia.  I told her, don't worry if you forget things, I will always have enough memory for the two of us.   

I have snippets of memories as a child doing things with Annie. getting water, and walking to the lake is a cherish memory. 

My favorite memory was, one summer I spent a couple of weeks at their fish camp.  The most memorable part of that summer was the smell of spruce trees.  We had to lay spruce boughs down inside the floor of our tent. Annie joked about getting a new carpet every week. I also remember the long sandy beach, the warmth of the  shallow water, and the stories around the campfire. That was a great summer.
she had a tent like this 


Genuinely beautiful inside and out like her  radiant smile.   When I think about Mary my heart swells so big with love.  She is caring, loving, and is always available to help others.  She has a heart of gold. She is sensible, thoughtful, and has a strong sensibility. Oh, by the way she is a fantastic Scrabble, and cribbage player too.

She is the sister I  had the most time with growing up having lived with her for a few years in my teens. She teaches me everyday to be caring, to be aware of people’s weakness and vulnerabilities.   She also teaches me to persevere, to work hard, and to be tenacious. And when you’re cleaning house, the sinks should always shine! We nickname her Mary-Running-Water because when she is housecleaning she leaves the sink tap water running. And  if you are having dinner at her house, you better watch out, because  she will take your plate thinking you're done eating to wash it. 

Her incredible strength helped her deal with losing everything she owned when she and her husband's house burnt down in the wild fires in Fort McMurray in May of 2016. She has picked up the pieces of her life and is building a new life for herself and her husband. A new city and a new house.  She is navigating these changes with grace.  

The time I spend with her is precious. We have accumulated many hours talking about all sorts of stuff. She has especially given me many insights into people’s addictions. She having been an addictions counsellor for a period in her life.  She absolutely loves 60's She is fluent and in  


Darling Rose is beautiful, easygoing and physically strong.  She has a strong mind and no one can tell her what to do. A retired teacher. She is also smart, sensitive and funny.  She has a contagious laugh, I can't tell you how many times she has made me laugh.  She is an activist, fighting for the environment, and against injustices against the First Nations peoples.
I admire her strength. She is a survivor.  Life has not been easy for her but she has a strong inner strength. She kicked breast cancer’s butt and complication from it! 

I have nicknamed her Rambling-Rose because she can't seem to stay in one place and is always on the road.  Crisscrossing Canada more times than I can count. 

Her teachings to me are to stay strong and never to give up the fight for the underdog. Don't worry about what others think, as long as you're doing the right thing. Just as  important, she has a gift to write, which I keep encouraging her to do.  I even created a blog for her, she has to get back to it and do some blogging. One day I hope to see her publish a book. 

My sisters are providing me with invaluable life lessons.  We don’t get to see each other often but when we do get together, their stories and laughter sustain me for months, the sub text is we love and support one another. No matter our differences we will always encourage and support each other in a loving way. She is fluent and in Dene.

Liz, me, Mary, and our mama!
Our gifts, we can thank our Mom for passing them on to us. All my sisters speak our indigenous language, we can thank mom for that.  In our journey our connection to one another is our mom.  Indeed, our relationship with our mom influences who we became as adults and how we relate to one another. 

Coming from a large family it is only natural that we all have a different relationship with our mom.  However, the important thing to remember is that our mom, no matter what, did her best for us based on what she had at the time and has made us stronger women.     

I could not have picked a better mom or set of sisters!  

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