Carrie Ann’s great-great-grandfather, George Maxon Girardin, worked out on Point Pelee towards the end of the 1800s. He was a volunteer rescuer—nicknamed “monkey man” because of his small size —who would go out on a rope to big ships that had hit the ground off Point Pelee. Girardin was the last person buried in the Point Pelee Cemetery in 1948. Burials were stopped there because of the marshy waters coming in and taking over the graves. Sadly, when his wife passed away, she wasn’t allowed to be buried next to him.
MEET THE PEOPLE
Carrie Ann and Janne – Leamington
“Our family has always been here.”
Carrie Ann and Janne are members of Caldwell, a First Nations band government with traditional territory ranging from the Detroit River to Long Point. Carrie Ann can trace her ancestry in the region back seven generations. Stories have been passed down through the family of how once, a long time ago, people would walk from the tip of Point Pelee out to Pelee Island.
“Point Pelee and Pelee Island are the heart of our ancestral territory.”
Carrie Ann’s mother, Janne, remembers her childhood in Leamington, Ont. fondly. It was a very different place back in the 1950s.
“When I was a kid, we had the iceman, the breadman, and the milkman.”
When Janne was a child, learning to swim was not a choice.
“You got thrown off the dock, and it was either sink or swim. I learned how to dog paddle really quick! The water was what we kids lived for. It was our playground.”
Janne remembers the water back then being so clean and clear and how the lake’s bottom was pure sand. She loved doggy-paddling along the shore, looking for shiny stones.
“We could be swimming and splashing and dunking each other. Back then, you would get water up your nose or down your throat, and you didn’t have to worry about getting sick. Now you get water down your throat, and you are running to the hospital. Back in those days, they didn’t have boil alerts on the water or signs posted on the beach saying you couldn’t swim.”
Janne and her friends would be in the water from the first of April until “it got so cold you couldn’t stand it.” Janne remembers how her sister’s cannonballs off the dock would scare all the fishermen’s fish away. Janne loved climbing up on the rocks, and just as a wave came in, she would jump into it and let it take her out. “We got heck for doing it, but nobody ever got hurt.”
As a teen, Janne loved going down to a little restaurant on the lakefront (that is gone now) — where she could listen to the jukebox, drink coke, and share french fries with a friend. “That’s all we could afford, but it was carefree in those days.” Any money she had was from working out in the farm fields picking beans, strawberries, or peaches. From age 11, Janne worked either for her uncle or other farmers, after school and in the summer. She remembers how she would take her pay at the end of the summer, go to Zellers, and buy school supplies. Sunday, during the summers, was her one day off from working in the fields. She would swim, fish, and cook the fish right there on the beach with her family.
Many aspects of Janne’s childhood were carefree. Still, looking back, Janne sees all that was withheld from her - her traditional culture and language.
“Us kids were never taught our language. We weren’t allowed. My grandparents refused to teach us, and they forbid my father from teaching us. Our aunts and uncles were told to watch their language when they were around us kids. Everyone was afraid that we would be taken to residential schools if we spoke our language.”
Despite her family’s attempts to keep their culture and language from Janne, she listened and tried her best to piece together what she could.
“When I was a kid, believe it or not, I didn’t talk that much. Now you can’t get me to shut up! When my aunts or uncles or grandma or grandpa were around, I always listened carefully. Every once and a while, they would talk in our language. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I would guess and absorb it.”
As a young woman, Janne moved to Windsor to go to hairdressing school, worked as a hairdresser for a while, and then spent many years working as a correctional officer. When Janne’s only daughter Carrie Ann was born, Janne did her best to expose Carrie Ann to their traditional culture. From an early age, Janne brought her daughter to Caldwell Band meetings.
In 1995, after she had her daughter, Carrie Ann moved to Leamington, where Janne had already returned to live. In 2007 Janne was elected to council at Caldwell First Nation and in 2009 the Caldwell Band office moved to Leamington. Carrie Ann had just finished her accounting degree at college and applied to Caldwell for a finance job. She didn’t get the position, but they offered her a position as a community wellness worker. “It was definitely a win-win!”
Since 2018, Carrie Ann has been working as the Cultural Development Coordinator & Language Champion for Caldwell First Nation. Carrie Ann explains how, when most people think of First Nations communities, they think of reserves. Caldwell has never had a reserve. Connected to this lack of a physical “home base” is that their people are spread out far and wide.
“If Caldwell had had a reserve, like other First Nations, we would not have dispersed, and we would have been a cohesive community. We would have had that knowledge at our fingertips and learned it throughout, but we don’t.”
For this reason, a big part of the programming that Carrie Ann does is about bringing in traditional knowledge keepers to teach their people ceremonies, traditions, and the Anishinaabemowin language. Bringing this knowledge back is central to what Carrie Ann does.
Carrie Ann’s grandfather Isaac II fought in WW2 as part of the Essex Scottish Brigade, who stormed Normandy’s shore. Still, Carrie Ann says he was never allowed to join Leamington’s legion because he was indigenous. In 2009 Caldwell First nation bought the old legion building. “How ironic it is that the legion wouldn’t let my grandpa be a part of it, and now Caldwell First Nation owns the legion building!”
The lake is essential to Carrie Ann, her family, and their community. Both Carrie Ann and her mother Janne share fond memories of smelting off of Pelee Drive. The whole family would go at night time, and if you stood on the dock in smelting season and looked at the shore, all you could see were fires lit by each family.
“The smelt; they really ran. People would leave the beach area with garbage pails full of smelt. You don’t see them anymore. I figure they were all caught. I like eating smelt, but I haven’t been able to do that in a long time.”
The experience of losing the smelt is something they don’t want to have happen with the other species that live in the lake.
“Lake Erie is our lifeline. Without water, we cannot live.”
In her lifetime, Carrie Ann has participated in two sacred water ceremonies.
“The water ceremony is something women do. For us, water is the women’s responsibility.”
In a water ceremony, women stand in the water and use tobacco to sing and pray for the water.
In 2020, Point Pelee National Park's First Nations Advisory Circle decided to rename the picnic area formerly called "Pioneer." The committee chose the name Janne submitted: "Madbin Jina" which means "sit a while".
Today, Carrie Ann teaches her mother their language, Anishinaabemowin, a language Carrie Ann says is descriptive and connected to the land. Janne laughs, “I taught her, and now she is teaching me.”
Carrie Ann and Janne will continue to visit and have ceremony together in Point Pelee National Park, the center of their people's ancestral territory.
Lake Erie and the millions of people who rely on it for their drinking water, local jobs, and so much more need your help.
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