Raising the Children

AN INSPIRING WOMAN and ROLE MODEL TO MANY!

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The day Loraine Kenny-Beaton walked into my office at Patricia Centre in Sioux Lookout turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life. She was answering our ad requiring a First Nations parent who could create a native parenting skills program as a tool to be used by and in the First Nations communities of not only Sioux Lookout but those located in far flung Northwestern Ontario.

Helping to conduct the interview were two highly committed native women leaders of programs offered by First Nations organizations in town. We were nervous. We were eager to go, because we had been successful in raising the money needed to make a good start, but a few previous interviews had not proved to be quite what we were looking for.

The three of us were well aware of Lorraine's background: early childhood years spent with parents in the Lac Seul First Nations community just north of Sioux Lookout, endured boarding school in Kenora as a young girl separated from her family, worked her way up to the point of marriage. After the birth of their fourth child, she and her husband decided to move to Sudbury to allow Lorraine to obtain her university degree following the native studies course. While in Sudbury, Lorraine had the opportunity to absorb deeply the sacred teaching of the elders, to regain her roots. In her calm, steady voice she explained to us how gifted she felt, as she was now on the point of returning with her family to reside in Sioux Lookout. She had always hoped that some day she would become involved in helping native parents with the strengths they needed to raise children equipped to live in the "two cultures" at the same time, but still able to hold dear their own native roots.

Hearing her speak, hope stirred inside me, but would she accept? After all, we needed her far more than she needed us! Lorraine grinned and said "Alright then." With those words our two dreams came together.

Little did I know what a deep friendship would form between Lorraine and myself as I went about fundraising for the project and she began contacting elders far and wide to request conversations with them about raising children. With a steady, quiet resolve she drew a two year plan of how the program could evolve so as to include visits to many First Nations communities miles from town and in all kinds of winter and summer weather (including spring ice break up). Several communities asked her to provide one day workshops when they got wind of the plans afoot... They wanted to be involved.

Lorraine never said no. It was a huge gamble, which in fact took exactly two and a half years. Valuable parenting materials not found in any other publication across the length of Canada flew into the handsome white 3-ring binder along with the transcribed interviews from the elders, and 50 delicately created cartoons illustrating various skills parents can use with their children (thanks to a local First Nations artist). Last but not least, a one hour video began to take shape using local First Nations adult and child actors. One of its important scenes shows two elders, friends of Lorraine's from Kenora, enacting the story of The Little Boy Water Drum with a group of young native children in Sioux Lookout. Four other vignettes on the video present short dramas of interaction between parents and teenagers on typical family issues.

When the video crew from Wawatay finally packed up their equipment, and after a volunteer crew had formed an assembly line to stuff 50 binders with the written part of the program, all heaved a sigh of relief and gratitude -except Lorraine, who had one more task to accomplish. She was about to hold a three-day conference for 30 invited participants from the various First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario. These would gather at the hotel in Sioux Lookout for a trial run on how to use the program with parents on their own reserve. Lorraine untiringly facilitated this conference with the same enthusiasm she had shown in our interview with her two and a half years before. It was another success to add to many in the production of the dream come true.

Lorraine never ceased to inspire me with her unfailing wisdom, her strength and deep

spirituality accompanied by her handy sense of humour. She may have lost the battle with cancer at her death just over two months ago. But the battles she won in her life time, as a wife, mother, wise teacher and untiring leader in the community, have, I am sure, earned her a place of great honour with the Creator of our planet earth.

I believe I am a better person for having come to know this amazing woman and her family.

Maria Lanthier, ibvm