It’s on my bucket list to publish a novel. Over the last twenty years I wrote three novels (although I don’t like them so they will never be published). That’s okay: I learned about character development, story arc, conflict, dialogue, and voice. Now I want to put that 10,000 hours+ of practice to use and write something that I love, something will make an impact. Write an important story that reminds us of our humanity, connects to Métis family history, and shares the beauty of Georgian Bay.
Moccasin flowers (or pink lady slippers) are wild orchids that bloom in late Spring. Delicate plants that survive Canadian winters. Medicinal plants that relax muscle spasms and calm anxiety. Symbiotic plants that give back to the fungus they use to make seeds.
Moccasins (the slippers) provide a rich thematic focus too. Every few years, our family went to French River Trading post to buy them. I’ve had moccasins since I was a child. Delicate floral beading on the toes. The idea of walking in someone else’s moccasins. Footwear that is both part of the past and the present.
Discovering my Métis heritage deeply affected me. It was like suddenly the world made sense. I understood why some of my family traditions were so different than my friends’ traditions. When I am out on the water on Georgian Bay I feel at home, connected to everything, grounded and uplifted simultaneously. Writing about what it means to be Métis today, capturing some of the history through fiction calls to me with a force I can’t ignore.
Last summer I was in the car with my parents driving to Sudbury. I’m not sure how it came up in conversation but we started talking about the Sixties Scoop. I wondered if anyone in the Britt/Byng Inlet area was affected by this and other oppressive historical events. My mother was a child of the sixties. She hadn’t heard about it before and was horrified as I explained to her about the many children removed from their homes. I have a lot of questions about this time in history.
My family wasn’t torn apart, but their culture was silenced. Between 1900 and 1990 the Lamondins retold their story as French Canadian, declaring that we recently emigrated from Normandy, openly denying Indigenous roots in fear of being disrespected and/or dejected from the community. Mom was trained by her family to share this story about Normandy if anyone asked about her background. And this is the story she shared with me as I was growing up and asking questions about who we are. It was the story she knew. It was Grandpa’s generation that silenced history.
In the early 1900s Grandpa and his family changed their name from Normandin to Lamondin. Normandin was an old voyageur name. Why such an intentional action to hide identity? (Here is an oral history transcribed from my great-x3-grandfather, Joseph Normandin). Some of Grandpa’s records say Normandin and some say Lamondin. His sister, my great-aunt Bernice, is the one of that generation I knew best. We spent time with her every summer and every summer I asked her questions, knowing even as a child that something must be missing from the story. My questions often made her upset. Sometimes angry.
So I wonder, what if? What if our name wasn’t changed? What if our culture wasn’t lost? What if our family wasn’t afraid and ashamed of their story? What if we could meet the people on our family tree to learn from them? How would I get there? What would it look like? Would I join their world or would they join mine? Or would we meet in a space between us? How would meeting them change my life? Why does the future need to be changed?
I began work on this book years ago and it has changed form and focus a number of times. Last summer, I worked on it at the Haliburton School of the Arts in my writing class. In the fall, I attended the Kingston Writer’s Festival and used the workshops to refocus the work. Now I feel ready. The outline is complete. The research is well underway. The first chapters are done. My plan is to finish the first draft by the end of 2019.
Moccasin Flowers is a novel about two women who discover they are connected through an online DNA test. Leila is a Métis artist who moves her studio home to Georgian Bay when her grandmother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Allie is a teacher, wife, and mother in Toronto who was adopted at birth. Together they learn the impact of the Sixties Scoop on their family just as a raging forest fire threatens to destroy everything. A story about family, identity, time, and Georgian Bay.
“We may sometimes feel that we can’t do much as individuals, but humanity is made up of individuals; we can make a difference. As individuals we can influence our own families. Our families can influence our communities and our communities can influence our nations.”