Mother’s Day Q&A
For Anishnawbe Health Toronto Staff member Kelly Lavallee, Mother’s Day is a time to acknowledge the strong Indigenous women in her life and spend time with her boys
As we celebrate Mother’s Day on May 9, we had a special interview with Anishnawbe Health Toronto (AHT), staff member Kelly Lavallée, Sitting Turtle Woman, Deer Clan. Kelly has worked at AHT since 2012 and has worked the last three years with Indigenous youth, ages 14-24, as an Oshkii Okitchiidak Youth Counsellor. She’s also a full-time student studying social work at Ryerson and graduating this June with honours. She has been offered a scholarship to continue her Masters of Social work in the fall. Kelly will be celebrating Mother’s day this year with her sons, Isaac (12) and Kyran (4).
Tell us about your boys.
My boys are my little fire keepers. When I feel my fire is about to go out, they ignite the fire back within me and remind me what I am here to do. They give me strength and light in times of darkness. My boys are strong-minded, determined, kind, funny, charismatic, energetic, and full of life. They have so many gifts and each day that goes by is a blessing. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. I am grateful that they choose me as their mom.
What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood in my world means laughing and being silly, wiping their tears, and role modeling the behaviours I expect to see from them. It means being present for the good times and the bad times, teaching life skills, being adventurous, and taking risks. Sometimes it means making hard choices for their own well-being, having patience and compassion when they are having bad days, and showing unconditional love each minute of each day.
What did you learn from your own mother?
Everything! My mom, Kimberly Fairney Lavallée, Migizi Qwe, was an amazing woman who passed away suddenly eight years ago. I did not think I was ready to walk through life without my mom by my side. When she died, I was lost, and I did not know where to go. I ended up at AHT the next morning in hopes to get her spirit name and she came back to give it to me. Since then, I have been doing a lot of healing work to connect me back to my spirit, my teachings, and my path as a helper. I believe in our ways of living and knowing, the connection to mother earth, our ancestors and spirit guides, and our medicines. I have learned that my mom is everywhere I go. I feel close to her spirit and when I need her, she is always there to make sure I am ok. I focus on the connection I have to her spirit, which is so pure and beautiful.
I cannot leave out the other women that have loved and supported me throughout my life. I come from a long line of very strong women and I want to acknowledge my aunts, my nana, and my memere. My Aunt Lynn and I are the only women left on my mother’s side. She’s the matriarch of my family and while she has no children, she has taken on this role without question. I know her sisters are watching over her, and they are so proud of how she has stepped up to ensure all of us are well. She is my rock and I am so blessed to have her with me, helping me get through life.
How does your Indigenous identity inform your parenting?
I live and walk in ways that encourage the beauty of our culture and teachings. I show my boys all the good medicine they have around them because one day they will need it. By doing the work on my own and in the community, I am showing them how we can “live the good life” bimaadiziwin. We smudge, attend sweat lodges, drum and dance together. We have support and strong relationships in the community. I often incorporate the seven sacred teachings in my parenting. I do this through my own spiritual journey and I cannot teach if I do not fully understand.
How has being a mother influenced your role within the Oshkii program at Anishnawbe Health Toronto?
I often say I feel like I have 52 kids! I look out for their well-being and when things get hard, I am there for them. When they succeed, I am proud of their achievements. Their successes, big and small, bring joy to my spirit. It’s hard not to be a motherly figure. I’ve watched many of them grow into amazing young men and women and I want them to be the best versions of themselves. As a mother that is what I want for my children; the Oshkiis are no different. As a single mother, the balance between working and going to school full time, and being a mom 24/7 interconnects. I am happy that I have the support from my team and AHT. They say it takes a village to raise children and I am so lucky to be surrounded by amazing people that support and understand my journey as a mother!
What advice do you have for other mothers?
TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF! Self-care looks different for everyone. Many years ago, I was told a valuable lesson from a Traditional Healer at AHT. When a mother wolf leaves the den to hunt food for her cubs, she first hunts for herself. She needs to do this so that she has the energy to carry food back to her babies. To all the mamas out there, “let’s do what we need to do for our wellness so we can be strong enough to carry our babies through life.”
This year we are spending another Mother’s Day during a pandemic, how has this impacted the time you spend together and do you have any special plans for Mother’s Day?
This year I plan to be outside. My mom loved water. She would sit at the docks reading and enjoying the good medicine that surrounded her. I like to go to her favorite spots as I feel most connected to her when I sit there. I offer tobacco, sing songs, and enjoy the beauty of Turtle Island. I think for many, every day feels like the same day, so I will do my best to bring some light and positivity to the circumstances we are in. I know that my boys will do everything they can to make me feel special.
I wish lots of love and light to everyone. Be safe. Acknowledge the strong women in your life, whether it’s your mom, auntie, kokum, or friend.