Death of an Elder
Rose Peltier was a respected and much valued elder of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve. She died recently leaving over a hundred descendents and a grateful community to mourn her. She was a student at the Spanish Residential School. She was an expert in the Ojibway language.
She completed the course at the Anishnabe Spiritual Centre at Anderson Lake where she continued taking courses for many many years. She was one of the first woman commissioned into the Diocesan Order of Woman (later Order of Service) by the Bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste, Marie.
She was renowned as a person who valued prayer and prayed often. I was once limping around on a sore foot when I overheard her whisper to someone : ” prayer would heal that”. She was convinced of that. I wasn’t so sure.
Another time when she was going to daily Mass, she passed a man working in his yard who said to her: “There goes that holy lady”. She looked at him and simply said: “I wish I were like you and didn’t need the strength.”
She was indeed a holy lady, not because she prayed and went to mass, but because she knew she needed the strength and knew where to get it.
She once called me and told me that the Chief and Band Councilors were having trouble and they wanted her to go their meeting that night and observe. She always found these to be tense situations and she wanted me to pray for her while she was there Now I don’t know of any governing body anywhere in the world who when having trouble would ask an old lady to advise them.
Even more I don’t know of any such group who when they got the advice Rose gave and would follow it. She simply told them: “you people need to pray”. She suggested that the next day they call for a Tribal spiritual leader to come and pray with them all morning in the Medicine Lodge. Then they should ask the priest to come in the afternoon and bless all the band offices and say Mass in the Council Chambers. And that is what they did.
I asked Rose what it was like at the residential school. She told she was so glad she went there because they taught her all she knew. Of course, I kept hearing all kinds of terrible things about the schools, so I asked her again what it was really like there.
She told me “They made us ashamed of being Indian. It wasn’t until I went to the Anishnabe Spiritual Centre that I stopped being ashamed of being Indian”. I am so grateful to Rose for this insight.
When Justice Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described what happened at the residential schools as being cultural genocide, many people found this to be too harsh, but I knew exactly what he meant. When a child is shamed not for what they do, but for who they are, it takes a long time, even generations, to heal.
Rose was a true elder. She held the hopes and the dreams of the community, especially of the youth, in her heart. She went to every conference, workshop and meeting that would benefit the community and she was tireless in seeking ways to heal and improve the lives of young people. She now dances with the grandmothers and exercises the same elderly care for her people that she always had.
She was my friend and mentor. I am so very, very happy to have known Rose Peltier.