Saskatoon·Point of View

Why I've spent much of my life raising other people's children

The Indian Residential Schools, Sixties Scoop and Indigenous child welfare system are a part of my reality. All of these programs impacted my family. It's torn us apart with no end in sight. But it's from that life that I have grown fiercely protective of kids.

I chose to honour my mother, my heritage by purchasing a house that would always be a safe haven for kids

Rose Bear (front), Melody Wood's mother, poses with Wood's cousin Wes in this old family photo. (Supplied by Melody Wood)

I have a random memory of my biological mother that will always be with me. 

My uncle asked my mom, "Do you know what love is?" I don't remember the answer but I remember how it ended, with my mom angrily sweeping everything that was sitting on the counter onto the floor. I wasn't sure she knew. 

Shortly after that, my sisters and I went into foster care. A couple years after that, we were all adopted together by the Wood family. As I grew into a teen, I wanted a life of business and travel. I didn't want a husband or children.

I was early into my post-secondary education when one of my sisters showed up at my house with her little girl so hungry she was crying. I fell in love with that little girl, thrust into my life. Some years later, there was a little boy, then another little girl and most recently another little girl. 

The children I watch are not orphaned, but I am pleased to know that I am taking on a traditional role, inadvertent as it was.- Melody Wood

Back in 2007, I began a two-year journey to receive a monetary payment from the Common Experience Payment, which is a component of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, on behalf of my now-deceased mother. Through this journey, I learned the details of Indian Residential Schools. It sparked my want to learn my language and culture. 

With the money I received on behalf of my deceased mother, I chose to honour her, my heritage and my future goals by purchasing a house that would always be a safe haven for kids, beautiful children that came to parents with addictions issues.

The Indian Residential Schools, Sixties Scoop and Indigenous child welfare system are a part of my reality. All of these programs impacted my family. It's torn us apart with no end in sight. But it's from that life that I have grown fiercely protective of kids. 

I have spent much of my adulthood raising other people's children. One of my sisters now has clarity and is facing the consequences of her actions and is overcoming them. We co-parent three children and support each other in separate households. There is adjustment and learning. 

Understanding the root cause is helpful in moving forward. 

As I grew up, I also discovered more of who I was. In my Plain Cree language, I am nāpēkan. In English, I am queer. In the more common contemporary terms, I am two spirit. I think it's interesting to note that in First Nations culture it was often the two spirit people who took on parenting roles to orphaned children. The children I watch are not orphaned, but I am pleased to know that I am taking on a traditional role, inadvertent as it was.

"I have spent much of my adulthood raising other people's children," says Melody Wood. (Supplied by Melody Wood)

The best compliments and motivation I have received in life are from the people I respect, talking about my relationships with the little ones in my life. Many Elders have commented on the love that they can plainly see that I have for my family. My dad often tells me that he is so proud of the relationship that I have with my nieces and nephews. 

Don't get me wrong, I am still capable of making selfish decisions but I think they are less and less as I navigate through this life. I feel I have made choices that have brought me to a place of contentment but also empowerment - to do more and be more. 

Life can be utterly tough, but it is our jobs — as individuals, as people, as a nation — to change that. I have the weirdest and most wonderful family I could have ever dreamed of. That's what makes me special, knowing that I am and will continue to have a large hand in these kids' lives, knowing that they are safe and loved. I can't wait to witness each of my kids' journeys into adulthood. 

I wouldn't change a thing. I regret nothing of the choices I have made. In First Nations culture, children are regarded as gifts. When I peek in on the kids and see them contentedly sleeping, there is safety in their slumbers, then everything I do is confirmed.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melody Wood is from waskicosihk or Little Pine First Nation. She works with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre and is involved in community work and volunteering. She is a self-described two-spirit art nerd whose greatest role in life is as a mauntie (mama-auntie).

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