A Proud Mama

Lesson: Respect the Culture

A proud mama, I was sitting at my son’s grade 7 graduation ceremony at Elijah Smith Elementary School with all the other family and friends. Graduates were being called up to receive their diplomas, and as the school had over 50% First Nation students, the ceremony included acknowledging students by their clan where applicable. The ceremony had moved into the Wolf Clan, and when they got to the B’s, they called up my son. Proudly he received his diploma.

But my son is not First Nation, and he is not Wolf, well not officially anyway. I was curious, so at the celebration held after the graduation ceremony I asked my son why he graduated as a member of the Wolf clan. He informed me that when he started attending Elijah Smith in grade 3, he registered as a member of the Wolf clan.

My son Jeff, on the right, in his full Wolf regalia

Okay, fair enough. From the time he was 4 Jeff was convinced he was First Nation and he was Wolf. It all started when I organized the Commissioner’s Potlatch (read blog here) and I was affectionally referred to as Wolf since the ladies behind the potlatch were all Crow. And it stuck.

At 5, he attended his kindergarten potlatch in full Wolf regalia, drum, and a beautiful button blanket on loan from the Commissioner of the Yukon. A few parents stopped me and said they did not realize Jeff was First Nation and wondered if it was on my side or his dad’s side. “Neither”, I would say, just leaving it there.

Jeff and Mark skidooing together

The same year, he asked his father over dinner one night, if he ever got lonely. “Why would I be lonely?”, his father asked. “Well”, my son explained, “Mom’s Wolf, so that makes me Wolf and Jane Wolf, and I was just wondering, as the only Crow, are you ever lonely?” And then his father had to explain to him that he was not Wolf, and not First Nation. My son did not like what he was told, he was certain he was both Wolf and First Nation.

So, of course, I went to a colleague of mine, the Chief of the Carcross Tagish First Nation at the time, and told him about my son. He asked to meet him, and they began a friendship that saw them skidooing together, attending birthday celebrations and ceremonies. The Chief, Mark, sat with my son to talk about being First Nation and asked Jeff if he loved the land. Jeff said yes. Mark asked him if he was of the land, and my son said yes. Mark said Jeff was First Nation for as long as he loved and cared for the land he was from.

Many years later, Mark let me know he wanted to adopt Jeff as his brother. This is a huge honour and attached to it an adherence to protocol. One can only be adopted into the Clan at the time of a headstone potlatch (which is one year after a potlatch for the death of a family member). And with the adoption comes responsibilities to the family, plus a name. Mark had decided to give his name to Jeff at a headstone potlatch. He asked me to bring Jeff to his house to discuss the adoption, Jeff never questioned it and off the two of us went to visit Mark.

Jeff and Mark, the Chief of the Carcross Tagish First Nation at the time

Mark explained the adoption process and invitation to become Jeff’s brother completely and Jeff listened quietly. He understood the responsibilities and duties, and the incredible honour of being welcomed into Mark’s family. Jeff just had one question – “what clan are you?”. Mark explained he was the headman of the Deisheetaan  (split tail beaver) clan, a sub-clan of the Crow clan. Jeff, now 11, respectfully replied, thanking Mark for his generous invitation, but he was Wolf and it was his understanding that Crow cannot adopt Wolf.

Mark sat speechless, then started to stutter and laugh…’he is right…’ was all he kept saying. And then he really laughed …. “I can’t believe I offered to adopt you, and made this gracious gift of my name and you said no. But you said no for all the right reasons. I can’t adopt you, you truly are Wolf.”.

At some point later we went to Mark’s 50th birthday party, ate moose nose and Mark told the story to everyone about Jeff of the Wolf clan and how he hoped the Wolf clan might really adopt him one day.


About the Author

Janet Sheriff

An innovative entrepreneur, Janet brings her extensive experience in all aspects of strategic planning, management, indigenous affairs and communications to start ups, new ventures and the mining & exploration sectors. Janet focuses her entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and vision to create new opportunities, award-winning innovative programs and new ways of conducting business. Her strong commitment to community engagement, sustainability and inclusion provides her the proven ability to work effectively and respectfully in cross-cultural environments.