Day 245 - Tish (1st person I approached)
September 02, 2014 - I just knew today was going to be an indoor day. Indoor as in I didn’t really want to leave the comfortable nest that is my home. And I hoped to find a stranger to chat with, indoors as well. Rain and wind don’t often make for friendly chit-chat and banter on the sidewalk. I managed to score high marks on both counts.
Tish was having a bite to eat when I approached her at my first indoor location, a local mall. When I told her what I was doing, she asked me a question that, frankly, I’m surprised I don’t get asked more often.
“How do I know you’re a writer?” I showed her my backup on my phone; my Facebook page.
“What kind of stuff would you be asking me about?” Another great question. Once I’d explained fully to Tish what it was all about, she agreed to chat, and let me take her picture.
Born in Dawson City in Yukon (Canada), Tish is an only child.
“Sometimes being an only child bothered me, and sometimes it didn’t. It can get lonely and boring as a kid. But, on the other hand, it also meant that I sometimes got spoiled as well. My grandmother on my mother’s side had fourteen children, so I had plenty of cousins for siblings. There are eighty plus cousins in Dawson, so there was usually someone around,” she said. Tish’s father, from the Han First Nation, worked for Parks Canada for thirty years.
“My mother did mostly janitorial work. Both of my parents worked hard all of their lives. They both had a difficult childhood,” said Tish. Her mother and all her aunts and uncles were sent to residential schools.
“My mother was put in a residential school all the way across Yukon. My father was sent to live in a hostel at St Paul’s, (an Anglican Church built in 1902, now a National Historic site) in Dawson. You don’t ever fully get over that,” she said.
Tish went to school in Dawson.
“I went to Roberts Service School. It has classes from K(indergarten) to Grade twelve, all in the same building. In Yukon, there are no (First Nation) reserves, so everything is integrated. Dawson is a very diverse little town (population 1300). I never have experienced any racism, or got picked on or anything like that in Dawson,” said Tish.
“I enjoyed the creative things we got to do at school. Anything I could do with my hands to make things. I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that it’s something Native people have been doing for centuries, creating and making things. I think that’s part of the reason why I like it. It’s a part of our culture and history,” she said.
“School was difficult though in other ways. With my parents experience in residential schools, even years after, it effects and continues to have an effect on the next generation. It’s called the ‘ripple effect.’ My parents were never taught how to raise kids, or how to be parents, because they were removed from their homes as kids. I certainly had it better than many kids when I was growing up. But I also saw things, and experienced a lot that a child at that age shouldn’t know anything about. There was a lot of alcoholism, and partying and loud music. At my house it wasn’t like that, but on weekends, sometimes, yeah it was. And then kids would be tired in school, and the teachers would ignore that there was anything wrong, or that there might be an issue. It was as if the teachers just thought the kids didn’t want to be there, so they ignored it all,” said Tish.
“There’s been a lot of improvement nowadays, with reparations and information being shared. They made a scrapbook with stories about what it was like to be in a residential school, what happened. From the kids, the missionary’s and the teachers. Written stories, government documents, what ever could be collected. Now it’s becoming part of the curriculum. Kids and teachers can learn about what really happened and have a better understanding,” said Tish.
“My parents taught me what they could about our First Nation history and culture. They passed along words and phrases. Or if we were talking about something and they remembered a story, they’d share it. So I learned some of the traditions of our culture at home,” she said. Tish’s great, great grandfather was Chief Isaac, who served as an important link between the old ways and the new.
“He collected songs, for example and put them away. We came across about one hundred songs and that way we learned about them and keep them alive. They don’t get lost or forgotten. It helps the new generations to learn about the traditions and customs of the Han people,” said Tish. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
At thirteen, Tish got her first part-time job.
“I worked at the Han Salmon Shop, where they sold traditionally smoked and dried fish. I did that and went to school. I had a few little jobs like that. I moved out as soon as I graduated from school. I was still in Dawson, but not living at home. I got a job working at the First Nation Cultural Centre as a guide and doing tours. I’ve done that for about ten years now,” she said.
“It’s seasonal. In Dawson, we have twenty four hours of sunshine at the height of summer and complete darkness in the middle of winter. I remember walking to school in the dark and walking home in the dark after school. The cultural centre is a seasonal job, and in winter I have taken so many courses. I like to learn and be active. I take courses at Yukon College in Dawson. I even took an eight month culinary arts course there one year,” said Tish.
“My father had an accident and that’s why I’m here in Vancouver. He fell and damaged his spine so he’s in Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), in the spinal injury ward. He’s paralyzed from the neck down. It’s what is called an 'incomplete injury,' so we have to wait and see if he’ll regain mobility. They did a fusion and removed a piece of vertebrae to relieve some of the pressure on his spinal cord. Today is day twenty eight. He managed to move his feet as if pumping the brakes on a car, and he can move his shoulders slightly and the tips of his fingers. He couldn't do that a week ago, so there has been remarkable progress in the last week. Today is a good day,” said Tish, with a big wide smile.
“I flew down here to be with him. In Dawson we only have one medi-vac helicopter, so it took them twelve hours to get him to VGH. I flew commercially and I got here just an hour after he arrived! I’m going home tomorrow to take care of some stuff, and have a bit of a break and then, I’ll be back next week,” she said. The community in Dawson is putting together a fund-raiser to help her father and the family. “It will be a spaghetti dinner, with a fifty-fifty draw and entertainment. There’s going to be a bake sale as well. My father injured himself two years ago and the community raised eight thousand dollars to help him. It’s amazing!”
Tish is going home to be with her son, Presley who will be eight years old next week.
“My partner and I have been together for fourteen years. His sister was my science teacher in high-school! He came to visit her and I didn’t meet him that first time. He liked Dawson so much, he decided to move there. We met at a party and got along and then he called me the next day. My motto is never call the next day, especially as he has a son, but he seemed nice. So we went on a date and we hit it off, and we’ve been together since then. I never expected to become a step-mother at twenty years old, but I helped raise his son who is now fifteen,” said Tish.
Tish’s stepson has just moved to Whitehorse, about an eight hour drive away from Dawson City.
“He went to go live with his mother. She had been out of his life for a while and in the past few years they’ve spent more time together. I think it’s good for him and important as well. It’s easy for people to get caught in a small town syndrome. Everything you need is there. Support, your network, everything. It’s easy to get comfortable in a simplistic way of life, and then never leave the small town. We told him that he should see that there’s a world outside of Dawson. He needs to explore that.” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://bit.ly/1lyHQDj