First Nation elders share their Christmas memories

Four First Nation elders shared their thoughts and memories of Christmas with CBC News, including stories about a first doll and the struggles that come with the season.

This holiday season, four First Nation elders recollect about years past

Elder Mike Pinay of Saskatchewan's Peepeekisis First Nation shares his Christmas memories. (Diane Adams/CBC)

Chances are if you celebrate Christmas this year, there will be a turkey on the table and mostly store-bought gifts under the tree.

But it wasn't always that way. We asked four First Nation elders to share their Christmas memories. 

Mike Pinay remembers visiting for days

Mike Pinay is an elder from the Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan. 

He says things have changed from the simple Christmases he remembers as a child.

We’d be lucky if we got knitted mitts, it was about visiting, being happy.- Elder Mike Pinay

​"Years ago, back when we didn’t have power, didn’t have running water, the way Christmas was — it wasn’t a matter of getting Christmas presents.... The big day Christmas came along and the grandmothers set up a big table and they fed people for a few days.

"It took us two days to make that circle [by sleigh]. It was so good that people didn’t worry about Christmas presents. We'd be lucky if we got knitted mitts. It was about visiting, being happy.

"They sent us out to go visit, hooked up a team of horses and sleigh. My cousins and I would head out, go west, we’d go north, then to the far corner, we used to camp there, [with] our old mushums at the Starblanket village."

Millie Anderson memorable Christmas presents

Millie Anderson is from Inuvik, N.W.T., but has been living in Regina for 40 years.
Elder Millie Anderson shares a Christmas story about her first doll. (Diane Adams)

“When I was growing up, maybe eight years old, first time I ever had a doll, I got it as a Christmas gift. The first time I ever see a real doll, and I was happy, and I treasured that thing for years.... Another time my dad, when he got wolverine… my mom made me a parka and that was my Christmas gift, so I remember those two things very good. 

"My parka got really worn out. There was no fur. And my doll, I think my mom gave it to kids who didn’t have Christmas. I was glad that she did that. I hope it made a good use for that little girl. I didn’t know anything about dolls or Christmas until I was about eight, nine years old. That’s when I went to school, this Anglican school, and we had to stay away from our parents, and I lost my language from that."

A tough time of year for elder Lilly Daniels 

We all like to think this season is joyous for all but it can also be stressful, even a struggle for some. 

Elder Lilly Daniels recounts her struggles during the holiday season. (Diane Adams)

Lilly Daniels shares her frustrations about this time of year. She's from the George Gordon and Kawacatoose First Nations in Saskatchewan.

"I’d like to see the young mothers to start looking after their young children, instead of depending on us all the time, because we don’t get nothing from them, that’s why we’re aging so fast. Some of them I see out there in the community, they’re having a hard time, struggling. A lot of them say, ‘I don’t feel like having Christmas, I don’t enjoy it anymore.' There’s so much going on, it’s hard for them to keep going."

Sydney Kaye's favourite Christmas food

Sydney Kaye is an elder from the Kawacatoose First Nation.

"In my memories, back home we had no power, no running water, nothing whatsoever, and I remember when my grandmother cooked all night. Why did she cook? Before Christmas I was out all the time, we got rabbits and we got deer. I don’t remember seeing turkey on the table. Anywhere I went for a visit Christmas Day, all you see was rabbits and deer, and some places the favourite meal was muskrat that they roasted."

CBC Saskatchewan's Diane Adams interviewed all of the elders at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina last week.

With files from Diane Adams