Piker Press Banner
November 27, 2023

A First Nations Perspective 18: Kokum

By Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith


It's around 7am and the golden rays of the sun intermingle with the snowy white clouds as though someone has taken a paintbrush and painted the sky. Kokum (Iris) has just risen from bed and is putting on her fleecy blue housecoat so that she can go outside and greet Father Sun and say chi miigwetch to the Creator for the day that is just beginning.

She ambles over to the large tobacco tin that sits on the shelf above her living room fireplace. Her gnarled hands encircle the large tin, and she slowly pulls the lid off. The aroma of the tobacco hits her nostrils and she breathes it in slowly. She takes a small handful the size of a quarter and holds it close in her right hand while with her other hand she sets the tin back down and slowly but surely puts the lid back on.

Though it is fall time, and the weather is a bit cooler than usual, nothing stops Iris from this routine she does every morning. With the tobacco in her hand, she walks over to the coat rack by her front door, and grabs a light shawl to throw around her shoulders. She bends down and slips her feet into a pair of blue crocs, and then stands up ever so slowly.

Iris' bones are aching a little more than usual this morning, but like always, she tries to ignore the pain. "I don't have time to feel pain right now," she says to herself. "I have other things to think about!"

She opens the front door and steps outside. The cool wind hits her right away, but she walks slowly down her front steps into her front yard. She walks a couple of feet away to a beautiful balsam poplar tree that sits close to the fence around her yard and raises her hand with the tobacco in it. She says three times "chi miigwetch ... chi miigwetch ... chi miigwetch Creator."

In her prayers, Iris thinks of her only daughter Margie and her granddaughter Michelle, and about how things are difficult for them right now. While thinking of them, she feels a pull at her heart. Her granddaughter Michelle is coming to live with her and she is wondering if having Michelle out here for a while will help the young girl any.

Before heading back into her little house, Iris looks over to the little stream that runs not far from her house. She has always known water to be healing for her people. She is thankful she has her own little stream at the front of her property where she lives in Mahkwa Lake. In order to get to the bigger lakes around Mahkwa Lake, you have to drive or walk a few miles to get to them. She's lucky, she's got her own water right in front of her property.

Mahkwa Lake is a sleepy hamlet with about 1,500 to 2,000 people. Her home is situated on an expanse of land that people in the town kind of stay away from. Around her home, the land is spotted with trailer homes, and in the winter months the land easily floods. Her water supply comes from a well instead of being hooked up to the town's water tower. Well water, though a little rough, is better than the chemicals that are pumped through the town's water because it is clean and not chemically enhanced.

With her morning prayers over, Iris walks back up the front steps of her house and opens the door to head back inside. She closes the door and takes her blue crocs off. She slips her feet into her inside shoes -- an old pair of fuzzy slippers -- and gently puts her shawl on the coat rack by the door. She turns her attention to the medicines that sit on top of her fireplace. As she walks over to the fireplace and reaches for the iron pan that she keeps her sage in, she wonders if her granddaughter will understand her Kokum's morning ritual when she gets here. And if she doesn't, how will she teach her granddaughter these ways without her being seen as some old kooky lady?

She knows that her daughter Margie doesn't follow their ways, or as far as she knows, she hasn't in years. It makes her a bit sad too, because she wants her daughter and granddaughter to carry on their people's traditions after she is gone. Traditions like their family's storytelling and the carrying of their medicines.

She takes the iron pan down from its place on the mantel, and lights a match. She touches it to the sage that sits in the old worn iron pan. She loves the smell of her medicines, especially sage, because she knows that it is the women's medicine and it cleanses everything. She reaches for the feather that sits beside the pan on the mantel and starts her morning walk through her two-bedroom house. She waves the feather ever so slightly and breathes in the calming essence of the sage. At once she is feeling at peace.

She brings the pan back to the mantel once she has made one trip around her house, and then turns her attention to making herself some breakfast. Breakfast for Iris always includes a cup of tea and some of her homemade bannock. She heads over to the fridge to pull out some of the bannock that she made the day before. She slices a generous piece for herself. She laughs to herself as she does this, because she knows that nothing comes between having her morning cup of tea and bannock.

Instead of meandering around her house, dusting her knick-knacks like she usually does, Kokum Iris knows this morning is different; she has to prepare for a trip into the city to catch a plane. She is heading to Toronto to pick up her granddaughter Michelle to bring her back with her. She must pull out her suitcase and put a couple of day's worth of clothing in it for her trip.

Iris doesn't like traveling that much, but she is making an exception for her daughter Margie and her granddaughter Michelle. Her heart is fluttering a little bit because it's been a while since she's been on a plane. She usually stays close to home and her community, but because it involves her granddaughter Michelle, she is willing to put her fears aside to go and deal with what's going on with her only daughter and grandchild over in Ontario.

After finishing her cup of tea and bannock, Iris brings her cup and plate to her kitchen sink. As she turns on the water, the loud hum of the generator in her basement starts up. It does this every time she uses the water in her house. The noise lasts a couple of seconds. It can scare you the first time you hear it, but Iris is so used to it, it doesn't faze her anymore. She washes her dishes as quickly as her arthritic hands allow her and puts them in the dish rack to dry. She turns around and reaches over to the oven door handle where a dishtowel is neatly folded and grabs it to wipe her hands dry, before putting it back on the oven door again. With this chore done, she turns her attention to going into her room to get ready for a shower and to pack.

Iris moves from the kitchen to her bedroom. Her bedroom is not that big, and its size is made even worse by all the clothes, shoes, and papers that she has collected over the years. She knows she's a bit of a hoarder; when her daughter used to visit, she would always say, "Maamaa, you need to get rid of some of this stuff, it's not healthy to live around a bunch of junk!"

She would reply back, "It's not junk, it's actually quite useful, and don't tell me what to do, this is my house!" With her room being quite cluttered, it looks smaller than it actually is, but Iris has a method of making her way around the clutter, so it doesn't bother her too much. She makes her way towards a pile of clothes that sit on a dresser only she knows is there, and pulls out a pale blue shirt, a pair of slacks, underwear and socks and a bra.

After gathering her clothes, and taking off her nightclothes, she heads to the bathroom for her bath. There are two doorways to her bathroom. One where there is a little hallway, and the other heading right into the bathroom. She walks into the little hallway, and turns into her bathroom. She puts her clothes on the top of a hamper that sits close to the bathtub. In her bathtub, she has a non-slip plastic mat and a small plastic bench that she sits on so that she doesn't fall. Iris climbs into the tub, reaches for the handle to turn on the water, and slowly sits down on the bench.

By this time, she knows it's around 8am. Her ride into Winnipeg is picking her up in an hour. As she turns the water on, her phone ringing breaks the stillness of her house. She can't rush out of the tub, so she lets the phone ring. RING ... RING ... RING ...

She doesn't know that it is her daughter Margie calling her to tell her that her granddaughter Michelle has run away.


Article © Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-08-01
0 Reader Comments
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.