I spent a lot of time reminiscing on Monday - funerals have a way of doing that to you. Along with the hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to Theresa Jeffries, I thought about what this amazing Sechelt Elder had achieved in her lifetime and some of the challenges she'd overcome along the way.
In my mind I echoed the words of Chief Garry Feschuk when he remarked about how gracious and loving she was to all people after enduring, like many other older Band members, the legacy of the residential schools. He was so right when he said bitterness wasn't a part of her nature. I recalled interviewing her after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's historic apology to the First Nations of Canada on June 11, 2008.
That day she recalled what her grandparents and parents had gone through. For her one of the biggest losses the residential schools inflicted on her people was the loss of their culture. She deplored the methods used to rob children of the use of their own language.
"One day I hope our children, our grandchildren, will see this as something that happened and they make sure it never happens again - never, never happens again. They took away who we were as a people," she said.
For many years of her life Theresa, along with other Elders, worked to recover what was so evilly taken away. The end result - the dictionary of over 10,000 words that was formally presented in the B.C. legislature - ensured that never again would the Sechelt language be silenced.
As the first of her Band to graduate from the Sechelt high school, Theresa made education a priority her whole life. It was inspiring to hear her granddaughter say that she and her two sisters had gone on to post-secondary institutions because that was what her grandmother wanted, and no one argued with Theresa.
Another of Theresa's accomplishments that resonated with me was the part she played in changing First Nations' women's rights.
In 1972 I met a young woman who, like me, was pregnant with her second child. In what was outside the norm at that time, she wasn't married. She had a son about six and lived with the dad of both her children. One day I screwed up the courage to ask her why she chose to not wed the father of her kids. The answer was dreadful.
To do so she would have to give up all her Status Indian rights for both herself and her children because the man was not Aboriginal.
When years later I read that wrong had been changed, I remembered my friend Mary. Without Theresa and other courageous women, this would never have happened.
Theresa, the woman, provided us with some good chuckles on Monday too. Her desire to always look her best spoke to her belief that appearances are important. The other thing that was vital to this engaged, vibrant woman was communication. She kept tabs on what was happening with all the people she cared about. If you were in Theresa's sphere of influence, you could expect to hear from her regularly.
I recalled a canoe blessing I attended at Porpoise Bay a few years ago. Overhead a couple of eagles were swooping, coming closer as if they were checking out what was happening. One of the folks at the ceremony remarked, "Oh, the ancestors are visiting to make sure we're doing this right."
When Teresa made her final exit on Monday in the beautiful centuries-old cedar box accompanied by a drumming lament, I suddenly had a vision of an eagle with a huge wing span and a bright red beak winging its way to the heavens to take its place with the rest of the ancestors.
Soar high, wonderful woman, your work here is done. We'll never forget you.
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