Six Nations of the Grand River Territory
My Tótah Atyà:kya-kenha ran away from the Mohawk Institute three times before age nine. Each time he was returned to the residential school where he faced years of molestation by a teacher who would be found guilty posthumously and never spend a day in prison. For decades Indigenous children across Canada and the USA ran from schools, just wanting to go home. Their parents were arrested as punishment if the children ran. For generations families were told that because of their Indian blood, their children's upbringing was not their concern, right or responsibility. Many children died of exposure across isolated plains, forests and railway tracks as they tried to find home. A residential school survivor survived in many ways. My Tótah is an ancestor today. I am alive because he survived.
My favourite time of day is the morning when my baby lies in bed beside me; smiling and telling me to wake up. He giggles and grabs at my cheeks. Our mornings are gentle. Motherhood has brought gentleness to my life. What would it be like to have no right to care for my child? To be told he/she/they will never come home? I go to sleep at night just so I can wake up to my gentle Sakarakhotáhsi. I cried often during my conceptualization. My design is a pair of small children’s moccasins walking among strawberry fields. Haudenosaunee are told the journey to the Skyworld along the Milky Way is strewn with strawberries that Skywoman uprooted when she fell through a hole in the sky. In our Baby Naming Ceremony we are told that every child arrives with gifts and talents. Because they are babies their gifts are a mystery. It is our responsibility to give them a good life and witness their gifts come to fruition. The moccasins in my piece are beaded with 24K gold but the vamp faces are left blank. The gifts of those precious lost children will always be a mystery. Those children just wanted to go home. Tótah just wanted to go home. Every child went home in the end; but it wasn’t always to their mother’s arms. I hope the Creator will cradle them in place of their mothers, and may their journeys be gentle.