British Columbia

Suitcase connects Carrier woman with grandma she never got to know

Lyana Patrick spent lots of time with her grandma, but a language barrier meant she never knew her as much as she wanted to. Now, her grandma's suitcase and its contents are part of a new exhibit at UBC that Patrick hopes will bring intergenerational healing.

'When she passed ... I thought, there goes this really big connection to my culture and family'

Lyana Patrick (right) and Ashli Akins are PhD candidates at UBC's School of Community and Regional Planning and Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, respectively. They are seen here at The Suitcase exhibit, and at bottom right is a replica of Grandma Aloo's suitcase. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

When Lyana Patrick's grandma died in 2007, her family gave her a suitcase filled with her belongings.

But until last summer, Patrick couldn't bring herself to look inside.

When she finally did, she found it was full of things that marked her grandma's life as a member of the Carrier Nation in Central Interior B.C.

"We called her 'Grandma Aloo,' and in the Carrier language, aloo means 'mom;' she was a grandmother and a mother to so many of us," Patrick told On The Coast's Vivian Luk.

When Patrick finally opened the suitcase, it was full materials for making gloves and moccasins. There was lots of stuff related to caribou; Patrick's grandmother was part of the Caribou Clan, she says.

There were also more mundane things like government cheques and a missionary letter, all of it ranging in date from 1948 to 1998.

Residential School trauma

Some items showed the legacy of Residential School trauma in Patrick's family: an exercise book from her father's time in a Residential School was cut up for glove making.

"I was just so blown away because the only thing that we had from my dad from Residential Schools… were these horrendous stories of his experiences there," she said.

"That she would grab this exercise book and just cut it up … it really made me feel connected to my dad, my grandma and that experience."

A pair of gloves from the suitcase of Grandma Aloo. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

Grandma Aloo hid Patrick's father for years so government officials wouldn't find him, but he was eventually discovered at age nine and was forced to go.

In the school, he was beaten, strapped and starved, Patrick says, but came out more "intact" than some others because of Grandma Aloo, who would visit him, bring him food and provide support.

Language barrier

Grandma Aloo only spoke the Carrier language, so Patrick was never really to able communicate with her. But she grew up close to the reserve she lived on and would listen to her speak, wanting to get closer to her.

"So when she passed in 2007 I was really devastated. I felt I had lost so much. I felt this guilt and remorse. I thought, there goes this really big connection to my culture and my family," she said.

But now Patrick is using Grandma Aloo's suitcase to tell the story of her life and work toward intergenerational healing with a display at UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues.

The display, The Suitcase, is open to the public until Jan. 31.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

From the suitcase of Grandma Aloo, a cut-out of gloves made from a Residential School workbook. (Vivian Luk/CBC)

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Suitcase connects Carrier woman with grandma she never got to know