I write this to honor Mom and for the younger members of the family. So they will know better the lady called “Grandma Jane” on the Elwha Reservation.
It’s been over a year now since Mom left us. She was in the hospital for about a month as her body shut down one organ at a time.
Mom never did like to be alone. A young niece volunteered to stay at the hospital with her. She was too young to watch Mom die. She wound up crying. She said she couldn’t do it.
Another cousin volunteered to stay with Mom. She wound up crying saying she couldn’t do it either.
I steeled myself to stay with Mom until the end. I moved into the hospital with her.
I wasn’t the favorite. We have lived our lives at cross purposes. In the end I realized that I was the one that she counted on.
Mom was born and grew up on the beach at Little Boston. She and her friends would take the bigger oyster shells and fill them with sand. They would stand smaller mussels shells in the sand. The oyster shells were boats or cars and the mussel shells were the people.
Grampa and the other men hollowed out logs and fitted them together. They laid them out on poles stretching them from the creek to divert water to the houses. People would pull out the plugs and fill their buckets with cold fresh water. I am constantly amazed at the simple engineering skills of my ancestors. They knew how to live on the land without harming it.
Grampa worked in wood. He made canoes and skiffs or rowboats. He also made furniture. He carved a spinning wheel so my aunt could make yarn.
Once Mom showed me a brittle newspaper that contained an article about Grampa, who he was and about his carving. It described Mom as a beautiful little girl with bright shining eyes. The article called her a princess. Grampas father was our last chief of the Port Gamble band. We have had Tribal Councils since then. Grampa was our first Secretary Treasurer because he could read and write. It was his job to communicate with Washington DC.
Grampa told my Aunt Martha to keep a journal of what happened to our People. He told her to put them in cans and bury them. He wanted an accurate account of our history. I don’t think he trusted the white man to do that. My aunt passed this job to me.
Aunt Martha was from Grampas first marriage. Her mother was from the Katzie Tribe in Canada. She was a lot older than Mom, only ten years younger than Mom’s mother. She would refer to Grampa as “my father.” It made mom jealous. She said that’s our father. She was small and began calling Aunt Martha’s husband “our husband.” She thought they shared everything.
When mom was born she was given the Indian name Kristonia. Christina was chosen as her English name because it sounded similar.
Mom said that she didn’t face racism when she went to public school. She understood the Klallam language but refused to speak it. Dad said he didn’t talk white man until he married Mom.
Members of the Tribe started moving to save our language before it disappeared. When someone outside the family would ask Mom questions about the language she would become afraid. She would say she didn’t know.
My uncle Tom from Canada moved to the rez to help in the language program. He would come see Dad for help remembering words. One day they were discussing how to say something. Both men were very hard of hearing. They were almost shouting at each other. Mom was in the kitchen working. She stepped into the living room and told them the word they were trying to remember. Dad laughed because he knew Mom knew more than she let on.
I never did get the story from her about why she was afraid for people to know she understood the Klallam language. Something had happened to her. That was a secret she took to her grave. I can only assume that she was tortured as many were for speaking her language.
Lummi elder Joe Washington said that his tongue was burned with a match for speaking his language. He could not force himself to speak the language though he understood. Some survival instinct kicked in and wouldn’t allow him to do it. His wife would talk to him in Indian when they didn’t want anyone to know what they were talking about. He would nod and answer in English. We always figured it out that way.
Dad was born and grew up at the spit in Port Angeles. It was our last traditional village site. Our Shaker Minister is our last Tribal member born there. I call her our last wild Indian. The rest of us are Rez Indians.
Mom had moved to the Jamestown village to baby sit for a relative. It was her first job. The girl who became her best friend was Dad’s first cousin.
Dad would rent a bicycle from Port Angeles and bike to Jamestown to pick up Mom. She would sit on the bar handles and they would ride around the countryside. That was their dates.
They married and moved into a house on the spit in Port Angeles. Just before World War 2 the federal government condemned the houses and moved the residents to what became the Elwha Reservation.
Elwha was an original village site. Early white settlers coveted the land. They thought that since it was at the mouth of the river it would be good farm land like the mouth of the Mississippi river.
One night whites broke into the Elwha longhouses and started shooting. The People ran and kept going. They went to wherever they had relatives. The white farmers moved on to the land.
The Elwha valley is fishing country not farmland. The soil is either clay or rocks. It is river bed. The land would not cooperate with those white men.
The kind hearted farmers sold their stolen land to the federal government for the landless Indians. It was just before World War 2 and the government wanted our last village site on the spit for a Coast Guard Base. Our people were forced out of their homes onto the reservation.
Many of us can trace our Klallam blood through the western villages back to Clallam Bay and Sekiu and well into Makah territory. My great-grandmother was from Ozette. Elwha is an original village site. Those of us who live here now are descendants of the survivors of the western bands of the Klallam Tribe.
Port Gamble is an original village site. Yet they are also the descendants of the survivors of the eastern bands of the Klallam Tribe. That is where Mom is from. We buried both her and Dad there.
Dad was drafted into World War 2. Mom took her three children back to her own rez to be with her family. When Dad came back from the war he was drinking. So was Mom.
Dad’s relatives said he was fun loving when he was young. He loved baseball and fishing. I never knew that man. Alcohol and violence had set in by the time I was born.
An older relative of Dad’s from Neah Bay, Aunt Nora, once asked me if it was true that Dad beat Mom. I was a teenager by then. She said she couldn’t believe it. She told me that my grandfather had beaten my grandmother. She said Dad would take care of his mother when the beating was over. He would gently wash the blood from her face. He would pick up my grandmother and put her in the car. He wouldn’t let anyone else touch her. He would drive her around until she regained consciousness. I couldn’t imagine that kind gentle loving part of Dad. All I had known was violence.
Our lives growing up was hard. We had entered that dark transitional period in Indian history. We didn’t have our ceremonies to help and guide us. Christian churches destroyed our traditional life but wasn’t equipped to deal with the destruction they had wreaked.
I was talking with a cousin/friend who is on the council. I told her I wanted to go to a workshop on domestic violence and rape. She was happy I was interested in the subject. No one wants to touch it or acknowledge that it is a problem in our communities.
We talked about how violence had affected our lives. She too had watched her Mom be beaten by her boyfriends. She didn’t have a consistent father figure in her life. She thought that was the problem. I had my dad but didn’t fare any better than she did.
She entered an abusive relationship when she married a white man. She stayed in the relationship for her children. She finally left him and moved back to the rez and is working on her healing as I am.
Our mothers were strong people. I can see that now. I didn’t always think that. I always blamed Mom for not leaving Dad. I loved Dad but not his violence.
I understand now that she didn’t have the money or the means to leave him. She had no education and no marketable skills. She made the best choices in a situation that gave her no choices.
My nieces and nephews may be hurt by this part of our family history. But we must face it to heal it. Mom and Dad had stopped drinking by the time they came along. The physical violence had stopped. The damage had already been done to my sisters, me, my cousins and friends who had also grown up with violence.
My sisters, my cousins, my friends all got involved in abusive relationships. Since we had grown up with it we thought it was normal. We thought there was something wrong with us. I ran from relationships. I didn’t want to be trapped.
Dad died a little over ten years before Mom. My older sister and my brother never did forgive him for what he had put us through. When the hospital told Mom that Dad had passed away she collapsed. I left her with the rest of the family and went to sit with Dad’s now empty body.
I cried and told him how he had ruined my life. I told him that I forgave him. I told him that I had always loved him even though I hated what he put me through. I think I had an easier time with his death than my brother and sister because I forgave him.
Mom was lonely for the rest of her life although she was surrounded by her family. There were few left of her own age. She went through a period of missing Dad. She told me once that when she died she didn’t want to be with him. I think she was remembering the violent part of their lives together.
She fell once and cracked a disc in her spine. It was so painful for her. Luckily I had been staying with her. It was very early in the morning. She was making coffee. I had to call my sister and her son to help pick her up.
She loved going on the canoe journeys. She was so proud of the young people who paddled. Dad had lived long enough to see the return of the canoes. They were among the first elders to support the journeys.
At that time you had to have the permission of an elder to be in the canoes. One of Dad’s grandnieces came to him for permission. He stared at her for a second then said yes. He was honored and proud at the same time. Dad’s grandfather had made a canoe for him before he passed away. It was lost in a flood. Dad had fished in a canoe and was so happy to see their return.
Mom was usually the oldest person at the canoe events. She was gifted many blankets for that honor. Dad liked to tease her about that.
Mom fell and broke her hip. That was the beginning of her downhill slide. That last time she wound up in the hospital it was with pneumonia. We found out that her esophagus wasn’t working properly. She couldn’t swallow. Remnants of food would get into her lungs and cause infections. They were giving her oxygen.
She was seeing Dad regularly now. He would fish in the bay during the day. He would come in and sit on the beach until it got dark. He would come into Mom’s room. He would leave when it got light.
Mom was worried that he would get in trouble with the hospital. She asked a nurse if it was okay if her husband stayed with her. The nurse laughed and made fun of her. That was when Mom started getting rowdy. No one could control her. She was demanding to go home, but the hospital wouldn’t release her. That was when I moved in with her.
The doctor would tell me that Mom’s body was giving out and she probably wouldn’t make it through the night. I would call the family together and she would be happy and rebound. It went on like that for a month. I had always thought Mom was frail. I couldn’t believe how her body fought to survive.
The doctor told me that we had to decide what to do. She said that Mom could no longer eat because she could no longer swallow. She would have to be fed by a tube in her stomach. Her lungs no longer worked properly. She would have to be on a breathing machine the rest of her life.
I didn’t want to put anyone else through making that decision. I told the doctor to take her off life support. I called my older sister and told her what I had done. She cried and said it was best, that it was okay. I called my brother. He cried and told me it was best. I called my sister who was caring for her husband. He was dying of cancer. She also cried and said it was okay.
Mom miraculously lived a few more days. She was able to see all the people that she had loved.
I had gone back to my house to shower and change. As I was driving back to the hospital I saw in my minds eye a big longhouse. Dad walked to the center of it. Mom’s brothers lined up on either side of him. I knew the time had come.
One of my nephews was in mom’s room. He had been staying with us the last few nights. He would sit with mom, go for a walk and come back. He was worn out like everyone else. He wanted to go home but would stay if I wanted him to. I asked him to stay one more night.
I didn’t tell him of my vision. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to be by myself when she left us. He slept soundly on the other bed. I sat next to Mom and slept fitfully.
Mom was having a series of heart attacks. Everything was set up for me to give her morphine. For some reason I couldn’t do it. I would call a nurse and they would administer it. All I could do was hold Mom and pray for her until the pain subsided. The nurses were understanding and patient with me.
I sat up when I heard her breathing stop. I went to her bed. I took her in my arms and told her that I loved her. I told her that I had always loved her.
I went to the nurses station and told them that Mom had passed away. The nurse went into the room to check and removed the oxygen and iv’s.
I woke my nephew and told him that Mom had just passed away. He kissed Mom and called his own mother to give her the news.
I had always judged Mom and the other women of her generation for being weak and making the wrong decisions. I was the wrong one. I see now that they were very strong. They did the best they could in situations that gave them no options.
They suffered violence and racism and ate shit so that we could survive. I lift my hands to all the Indian women of the preceding generations.
May all my Indian sisters and I do as well with the same courage and strength as our mothers had.