Celebrating Saskatchewan's oldest Indigenous people
- Jeanelle Mandes
Two years ago, Eagle Feather News was on the search for Saskatchewan’s oldest Indigenous person and we introduced you to Sarazine Ratt, Philomene Moise and Flora Weenonis. This year, we decided to follow-up with the three incredible women and to hear more about their lives. Here are their stories.
Sarazine Ratt, from English River, recently celebrated her 104th birthday last month. She was born June 12th, 1912 in Patuanak, Northern Saskatchewan.
This year, her community celebrated her birthday in conjunction to their annual Treaty Day celebrations organized by the community health station.
“Over a hundred attended; relatives from Beauval and Île-à-la-Crosse came and celebrated the day with her,” says great-niece, Mary Aubichon. “The community celebrated it with a big cake. Some local guys played music, the people danced and the kids played a variety of activities followed with a traditional food barbeque.”
The community has a lot to be proud of their respected elder as she has accomplished a lot in her life. Sarazine was married to Frank Ratt who died a long time ago. They never had any children but she raised her nephew, Velmore Aubichon who is in his late 60s. Velmore’s son, Erwyn resides with Sarazine taking care of each other. She had five sisters and five brothers.
Sarazine attended residential school in the early 20s in Beauval. That’s where she learned how to speak French, Latin, Cree and Dené. As a multi-linguist, Sarazine taught Dené syllabics at school in the 70s.
“Sarazine has never had a flu shot and has always refused it. She never drank before so has always abstained from alcohol and stopped smoking cigarettes in the 60s. That’s what kept her going.”
Back then, her hobbies included making moose hide, berry picking, making traditional dried meat, and helping out with the priest by volunteering her time by cleaning and cooking. Her diet consisted of her favorite traditional foods such as dairy, fish, moose, and duck. To this day, she continues to bead and sew on the sewing machine.
A few weeks ago, Sarazine received an honorary mention at the House of Commons by NDP Georgina Jolibois for the Desnethe--Missinippi--Churchill riding about her turning 104.
“This is a positive thing for Canada to look at our Aboriginal people that live a positive lifestyle. It felt good because it would be the first time someone from our home community being mentioned so it was a positive awareness,” she says. “We’re so grateful to have her with us still and to have her in our community--it’s an honour.”
Mary describes her great-aunt as a remarkable little lady and admires her ability to live this long.
Philomene Moise, from Muskowekwan First Nation, turned 105 on July 11th. She was born in 1911 in Gordon’s First Nation. Every year, the family plans a big celebration to honour her birthday but unfortunately, Philomena started to develop dementia so this year’s celebration will be small.
Philomene’s parents were Albert Cyr and Maude Bitternose Cyr and she was married to Joe Moise who passed away in 1975. She lost four children, two boys and two girls, in the 30s from the flu epidemic. She had seen a lot of sickness over the years.
At a young age, Philomene attended residential school and enjoyed her experience.
“She liked it there because she learned how to sew, cook, clean, and she got a lot of skills that later on helped her be a good wife and mother,” says daughter, Marlene Moise who is 61-years-old. “However, my mother worked as a seamstress at the residential school for many years. She made our own clothes out of flannel.”
Marlene recalls a time when her mother struggled when she was young. They were so poor that they had to survive on prairie dogs. Which is why she never took food for granted and always ate wild meats, soup bannock, porridge and other traditional foods.
“She had the most beautiful garden and grew everything from corn to carrots. We lived off the garden,” she adds. “She would have bacon once a week as a treat.”
Philomene liked picking berries, smashing chokecherries and making desserts out of it. She was a real good cook, Marlene recalls.
Because of her lost eyesight, she has been in the Lestock care home for almost nine years. Marlene’s 68-year-old brother, Douglas Moise, visits his mother on a daily basis to feed her breakfast, dinner and supper which he has been doing since she was admitted.
When Marlene lived with her mother, she remembers it as a memorable time in her life.
“We’d go out and pick berries together. Go shopping together and make meals together. That was the most enjoyable time that I can remember,” she says. “She brought up many children in her life, two families other than her own. She had a heart of gold and even though there was no money coming in, she still took care of them.”
Marlene says her mother Philomene is the most inspiring person because she taught her and others to work hard and don’t quit.
Flora Weenonis, from Big River First Nation, turned 104 earlier this year. Her late husband, Thomas Weenonis, passed away years ago. Together, they had about ten children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“She’s the oldest kokum in our family on my mother’s side,” says the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron. “She was a hard worker all her life. She’s a survivor. Anytime you live to be a 104-years-old, you survived a lot of changes in life. She’s definitely the backbone in our family.”
Two years ago, Flora was living alone with a few of her grandchildren but nowadays, she resides with her daughter.
“Her memory is still sharp and she still has lessons to teach every day. She’s not shy to voice her opinion when she sees something wrong,” says Chief Cameron.
This year, the family celebrated Flora’s birthday with a feast, visiting amongst each other and sharing stories.
“She shared with us some of the life teachings, and how she wanted us to live life and raise our children. All the good teachings that kokums brings to us,” he adds. “We thanked her for all the years of love, teachings and discipline so we can teach our children the same thing that she taught us.”
Flora continues to speak her Cree language and practice her culture, eating traditional foods like wild meat and still refuses to eat fast foods.