by Alyssa Delle Palme
In a cozy two-storey home nestled in the woods of Wakefield, Quebec, Suzanne Campeau Whiteduck sits on the living room floor with her baby girl, Charlotte, in her lap. Together, they read the book My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith. Eleven-month-old Charlotte is a smiley baby with chubby cheeks and a full head of beautiful dark hair. Bright eyed and curious, she enjoys looking at the illustrations by Julie Flett and she listens attentively as her mother reads.
The storybook celebrates Indigenous culture and it’s dedicated to former Indian residential school students and their families. Suzanne and her husband, Dylan Whiteduck, read to Charlotte every day and they believe it’s important to read Charlotte books by indigenous authors and illustrators.
Suzanne, 31, is Anishinabe from Nipissing First Nation, as well as French Canadian. Once her maternity leave is over, she will return to her role as an executive assistant with the Assembly of First Nations. Dylan, 28, is Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, and he works as an economic development officer. As parents, they’re raising Charlotte to value her ancestry.
“I want her to be proud of her heritage,” says the dark haired father with an engaging smile, “and I want Charlotte to know that this territory is unceded Algonquin land. It’s important for her to know her rights as an Indigenous person.”
Meanwhile Suzanne wants her daughter to learn the language of her people.
“Dylan and I are fortunate enough to have a few language speakers in both our families to help make this happen for Charlotte.”
“Gzaagin nbiibiinsim” is an Anishinabemowin phrase and “kizàgihin nibebensim” is an Algonquin phrase that Charlotte hears every day. They both mean “I love you my baby,” Suzanne explains.
Over six years ago, she and Dylan met at a mutual friend’s birthday party; they’ve been together ever since. On January 23, 2016, they got married on the beach in Tulum, Mexico, in front of 50 of their closest friends and family members. Suzanne says her destination wedding was one of the best days of her life. The weather was beautiful and her older brother, Ian, walked her down the aisle. Her father passed away from pancreatic cancer ten years ago, and Suzanne reveals one of his last wishes was that Ian would walk her down the aisle when she got married.
“My brother has been the biggest role model in my life. In fact, my first word was ‘Ian’ when I was a baby. We have been through a lot together as a family and I admire the strength and courage he has to get us through whatever life hands us.”
That same brother, Ian Campeau, is a former member of the famous electronic music group A Tribe Called Red, and Suzanne says she’s proud of both his musical career and his activism.
“I am so grateful for everything he stands for because it hits close to home. Ian has three daughters, a niece, a sister and a mom that are all Indigenous. When he speaks about Indigenous rights, missing and murdered Indigenous women, or violence against women, I know he feels he has a responsibility to make people aware of these issues.”
In Anishinabe culture, Suzanne says women play an important role.
“They are the life givers. Grandmothers play a pivotal role in our culture because they hold wisdom, which is passed down to their children about raising our babies. They have teachings they deliver to our young ones as well. It is why Dylan and I decided to name Charlotte after our grandmothers.”
Dylan says Suzanne is the backbone of their marriage. A strong independent woman is the best partner a husband could ask for, he adds, commending his wife for not only raising Charlotte, but also running a successful doTERRA essential oil business from home.
“I see the struggles of running a business and raising a child at the same time. I praise all mothers who go through this and establish themselves in the business world.”
Suzanne, with her energetic personality, is passionate about teaching and helping people. In fact, she has the healing gift of the jingle dress.
The Healing Gift of the Jingle Dress
“The style of dance that I do at powwows is called jingle dress. People who dance this style hold a very important responsibility to help others when they are in need of healing.”
The revered dress is adorned with little metal cones and when Suzanne dances, it jingles. The rhythmic echo is said to sound like raindrops on a tin roof.
“This dress and style of dancing are very important in the powwow circle. The story of the dress’ origins comes from the Ojibway people. A young girl was very sick. Someone had a vision of a dress with cones on it and the spirits told them that they needed to make the dress for the young girl and have her dance in it. The dress was made and the young girl tried to dance with it. She was so sick that the first time around she had to be carried. As the ceremony went on, she eventually was able to dance in the dress and was healed.”
Suzanne puts the vision of healing into practice. A few years ago when her sister-in-law, Justine, was battling breast cancer, she stepped in to help care for her nieces. Her sister-in-law, who is now cancer free, went on to deliver a baby girl just weeks after Charlotte was born. Suzanne was honoured to learn her niece was named after her.
For Dylan and Suzanne, Charlotte’s birth capped a year of high points. They got married, had a baby and bought a house all in 2016. Following their January wedding, the newlyweds moved into their first home December 1, and Charlotte was born, weighing over 10 pounds, December 14.
Right from that day, her parents began instilling the 7 Grandfather Teachings.
“They are Love, Truth, Humility, Honesty, Wisdom, Courage and Respect,” Suzanne explains. “In Anishinabe culture, we teach our children this as soon as they are born. On top of these teachings, I want Charlotte to be empathetic, kind and caring to others.”
In return, the baby girl has taught her mother a lot in her first year.
“Charlotte has taught me patience, she has taught me to find strength within myself that I didn’t even know I had, and she has taught me to love in a completely different way.”
Charlotte’s introduction to Indigenous culture has been tactile too. When she was brought home from the hospital, Suzanne placed her in the tikinagan she received at her baby shower. A baby carrier that keeps an infant swaddled, a tikinagan has birch bark backing, which makes it easy to prop the baby up.
“This is a common practice in First Nation culture. The purpose of the tikinagan is for the baby to feel safe because it’s swaddled, but also for the baby to observe its mother’s activities. This helps the baby’s development as she sees what goes on in her surroundings.”
Suzanne sits on the National Aboriginal Day committee for the Assembly of First Nations, and she helps to plan the powwow portion of the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival in Ottawa. She says the event is important to the Indigenous community because it gives artists and musicians a chance to show their talent on a larger scale.
“It’s important for the Ottawa community to enjoy and learn about our culture at the powwow and to have the chance to see that we are so much more than a stereotype.”
Charlotte’s first birthday is just around the corner and her parents plan on celebrating this milestone by introducing their daughter to the powwow dancing circle.
“She is already learning the ways of the powwow circle as she watches everything that goes on,” says Suzanne, “She will start dancing in the circle when she starts walking. She will wear a ribbon dress and we will have a ceremony for her to enter in the dancing circle.”
Until then, this family will celebrate another milestone, Suzanne and Dylan’s second wedding anniversary. Later this month, they will return to the same resort where they were married, this time with Charlotte in tow.
“Some of the same family members are coming back with us too. I’m just so happy that we get to celebrate our love again with our family and now with Charlotte too.”