Laundry, life in the bush, and defiance: N.W.T. listeners reflect on their mothers

Leading up to Mother’s Day, CBC’s Trailbreaker spoke to different listeners who shared reflections and memories about their mothers. To celebrate Mother’s Day, read a few of our favourites below.

These stories have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephen Kakfwi

My mother was Dene, her name was Georgina, and she lived to be 96 years old. And she was very defiantly Dene.

She spent eight years in residential school … and had to relearn her language, reconnect with her family, and learn all the skills that are required to live on the land. She became a master sewer, she could tan moose hide, set nets, set traps, prepare skins.

Because my father passed away in 1975, she raised five young children on her own. She’d often take them out in the bush by herself, even in the middle of winter. She did that on her own. She provided the wood, the food, and she did all the work.

She was very defiant that way. She taught me about being defiant, I guess. There’s a few stories about her that’ll illustrate that. 

Georgina Kakfwi died in 2016, at the age of 96. (Submitted by Stephen Kakfwi)

One is something that probably happened around 2000. She went out to spring camp with two other women … to tan moose hides, and prepare ducks and geese.

A black bear came, and kept bothering them. The other women got so intimidated they packed up and went back to town. But not my mother. She became her usual defiant self.

One day the bear wandered in, and my mother took her little .22 that’s always standing outside her tent, and shot the bear and killed it. And the town herd about it, they went and had a little parade for her and got the bear carcass that she had started to skin. She became known that summer as “Georgina the bear slayer.”

When she was 96, she became paralyzed from the waist down. And she went to Inuvik. And she stayed there from October until April. She told her family one day: “I’d like to go home now.”

She was told in very stern terms that she could not. She required two people to take care of her, and the only way she could ever go home is if she could learn to walk and stand by herself again. 

That was in April. And in May, I heard that my mother was able to move one foot. In June, she was moving the other foot. In July, she was using a walker to try to stand and move her legs. And by August, she was walking. Sheer willpower. 

She actually willed herself to get use of her feet and her legs back, all so she could go home one more time to see her people and her community. And that Christmas, we brought her home to Fort Good Hope.

All the people of Fort Good Hope came by and visited her, and that was it. In January, she said, “There’s nothing more I need to do.” She went back to Inuvik, and announced that she was going to die.

From her, we learned to be defiant.– Stephen Kakfwi, reflecting on his mother, Georgina

“There’s nothing more to live for,” she said. “I want all of you to come and visit me.”

So all of us came to visit, and when the youngest one came to visit her, probably about 2 days before she died … and once that visit was done, my mom passed away.

So, from her, we learned to be defiant. Not to be intimidated, to believe in yourself, to work hard, and be independent and never complain about the condition you find yourself in. 

Amos Scott

My mom is Gabrielle Mackenzie-Scott. I’ve got to say, I really, really love my mom. Most guys, we don’t say it enough when we become adults.

I got great life lessons from my mom. She taught me about family, and about doing my laundry before I was 10, and cooking and cleaning. And in a way that taught me about gender equality.

But more importantly, she really instilled lessons in me about being proud as a Tłı̨chǫ Dene person, and that’s really carried me for all my life.

So I really just want to say thank you to my mom, for making me a capable human being. One who cares for his family, and does his best to try to be a part of equally raising my own kids.

Trying to share with my kids things like the food we eat, the songs that are sung, the way we pray, and trying to have respect for the other people, are really solid Dene lessons that I learned from my mom. 

Amos Scott, back row centre, poses for a photo with his mother Gabrielle, seated in the second row, and their extended family. (Submitted by Amos Scott)

Lucy Simon

I just said goodbye to my mother, Mary-Louise Sanguez. She passed away on March 22.

I remember my mom from a really young age. When I was seven or eight years old, she got me and my two older sisters to scrape moose hide in the winter time.

My mom was the only child, and she had 15 of us. There’s eight girls, seven boys. My mom was originally from [Fort] Providence, and she married Dad when she was 16 years old and moved to Jean Marie [River].

She always got us scraping moosehide. Boy, I used to just hate it, [when] it’s so cold outside, scraping moosehide. But you know something? To this day I will treasure it, and I still do the same.

I usually take her home for Christmas, because she was in long-term care in Fort Simpson, take her home for her birthday, Sept. 6. She had taught us a lot, all of us girls.

The patience that she had with us was just incredible. Because there’s eight girls, but the boys are the ones dad always had trapping and things like that.

I just had a good cry yesterday morning, missing my mom. Because there was so much when we were younger. In case of the floods, we usually set up tents … we used to just go out there and stay there and fish in the springtime.

My uncle Johnny used to walk us to school, my mom and my grandma used to make dry fish and work on moose hide, and my dad would be stretching beaver pelts over there. It was just so gorgeous living in the bush in the springtime.

I treasured my mom till the day she took her last breath. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for her. 

Lucy Simon at her family’s cabin. She credits her mother with teaching her traditional skills like scraping moosehide. (Submitted by Paul Simon)

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