Denesuline Therese Deranger – May 08, 1919 – February 12, 2016 The last Traditional arranged Dene marriage.

My Beautiful mama

She was born into this world at Old Fort, Alberta on May 08, 1919. Eldest child of 11 Children, 2 sisters and 8 brothers. she got married just after turning 15 on July 1933 in Fond du Lac (Isadore Deranger) and became a widow on April 4, 1992 in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Born into an era where modern convenience was for others, she lived without electricity, plumbing, telephones, TV and many other amenities taken for granted by many.  Her life, was about survival. 

Born and raised in the traditional Dene lifestyle in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, on the shores of Lake Athabasca.  It was those very conditions that makes her who she is, who I am, and who we are as family.

Mama had an amazing life journey, from bush life to city dwelling, from dogsled to jet, from moccasin telegraph to emails and texting. 

At Niagara Falls Ontario with Faye Deranger
6 generations

Once, she told me that she wanted to go to school but grandpa would not allow it. Thankfully, after learning about what happened in these residential schools, it was a blessing he didn’t send her to school.  

However, I remember when I was a child, she went to continuing education for upgrading. She was so thrilled that she could do some rudimentary reading and writing, particularly when she was so proud to be writing the names of her children. Her eye shone bright and her smile was radient when she showed me what she wrote.

Mama was a teenage bride,  she was married at the tender age of 15 through an arranged marriage to a stranger who was in his twenties.

This was not unusual in the Desesuline custom. She became pregnant almost immediately, and had her last child well into her forties. Earlier in her marriage she would run away back to her parents’ home, but each time her grampa returned her to her husband. She resented this most of her life.

She gave birth to nineteen healthy children; the majority of her children born without the help of a doctor, except for the youngest ones. During one of the pregnancies she had to walk about 10 miles to the nearest community in early spring with the ground snow-covered, so she could make it to the midwife’s home for the birth of my brother. There were no prenatal classes to help her cope with understanding the development of pregnancy and caring for babies. There were no nurses to talk about baby blues. No one to help her understand what her body was going through, no one to help her understand the emotions that comes with exhaustion after having a baby and being sleep-deprived caring for babies whilst living in a tent miles from the nearest town.

Can you imagine, there were no Pampers, no baby formula and no prepared jars of baby food. Everything was home-made, and all those diapers had to be washed by hand. Fortunately, as the babies grew they became helpers in the care of the younger ones.

Mama and some daughters I am missing in this pix.

Mama experienced many challenges in her life time. My dad was a trapper and so he would leave her alone for extended periods. As with most women in her generation, she had to cope on her own. Some people would argue that many other women of her day were in the same position, and maybe this is so, but that does not minimize the hardship she endured.

She once told me a story about how she hated the sound of the wind blowing because it reminded her of a time when she was living in a tent during the early years of her marriage. It was in the fall, and she had a head cold. Throughout the night the wind was howling and she was all stuffed up. She said she was alone with some very young children at the time. Sometime during the early morning her head was aching so much, that the increase pressure in her ears eventually blew her eardrums. She remembers the warm blood pouring out of her ears. She said that ever since then, she has had problems with dizziness (she may have damaged her inner ear). Another time when one of my sisters was just two weeks old with the wind blowing the walls of the tent, my sister took ill and died a week later. She suffered so much grief.

How it must have been difficult for her to cope with the loss of a child when she herself was no more than a child. Later in her life she would lose five more of her children, as recently as in 2012 late December her son, my brother, Billy died of an apparent heart attack.

Indeed, that Christmas was a difficult time for her. Parents should never have to bury their children, it was heartbreaking to see her overwhelmed with grief.

In her thirties she had breast cancer and had to have a partial mastectomy. Over the years she has had eleven operations.

Years later, I remember one incident where she was very sick in the hospital, I was a young child at the time, we all gathered in her empty bedroom in Doghead in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta and prayed for her to get well. She made it through that ordeal. Later, I remember her telling us that she had a dream that she saw a man surrounded by light standing at the foot of her hospital bed, and she asked him to not take her because she still had young children. She came home from the hospital, and in her mind it was God’s will that she survived.  And not for her sake but for the sake of the children who still needed her.

There were times of difficulty involving alcohol during the sixties and seventies. I can recall bits and pieces but mainly because I was too young, I was oblivious to what really was happening. Thankfully, she and baba stopped drinking. We, her children, did okay for ourselves, being educated and becoming contributing members of society.

I believe we survived because of Mama, and not in spite of her. Her guidance allowed us to be strong individuals much like her. I am amazed at her will, whenever she decided something she did it. Like to quit drinking, and then later she actually stopped smoking cold turkey too.  She just decided she was not going to do those things anymore and that was that.

Grandma Christine Adam

Mama’s life is not all gloom and hardship. She enjoyed life and loved to travel. Visiting with her grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and her friends.

Indeed,  helping others made her happy.  Her joy, her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, which number over a hundred now. Her passion was beading and sewing things for her family before her eyes failed her.

She says that she enjoyed keeping busy. Her Dene beaded jackets are distinctive and recognizable all over the territory. She did the most beautiful beadwork. When I was a little girl she looked at my long thread as I was beading and she said, “Don’t be lazy, make your thread shorter.” She was right of course because when your thread is shorter it does not get tangled up. It takes longer to bead, but the results are perfection.

If things were not done right, be it sewing, cleaning or anything, she also had you redo it until it was done properly. I don’t know how many hours were spent cleaning, even when the house was already clean. Her standards are high for all of us.  People nowadays don’t take enough care to do things right. Rarely do we find anyone that actually takes pride in their work.

Last Dene jacket mama made

She enjoyed the yearly pilgrimage to Lac St. Anne, Canada’s largest Indigenous healing pilgrimage. She enjoyed visiting with old friends and family who also have travelled a long way from isolated communities to attend. There she always bought Holy Water, blessed statutes, and pendants like St. Christopher, which she gave away as gifts. I still have a few she has given me over the years.

at Lac Saint Anne my grandma, dad, mama, big sis late Liz

When I was younger I always enjoyed the fresh bread, and bannock she baked in the summer. The wood stove was moved outside because it was too hot in the house. At Christmas she made the best bread pudding I have ever tasted. I also really enjoyed the fun we had making homemade taffy in the winter.

I honour Mama. Her gifts to me are strength, courage and reverence. When I’m worried or upset, I clean, clean, clean, I know she gave that to me too. S But most of all, she gave me life. and taught me to never give up.

I could not resist adding a story, as told to me by Margo  

”  Mama grew up in a hard life and she did the best she could. Yes.  Many times I could see the stresses in her life.  With so many children how would anyone not understand her.  I only have a couple, and my God I get stressed, I now fully understand mama.  I have always had a great respect for her.

“One day long ago, I took mama, my mom, and Adeline TripdeRoche to Lac St. Anne with my old car.  My car had holes on the floor, which I tried to cover with a cardboard paper.  Highway 63 was still a gravel road.  I tell you each time we hit a bump puffs of dust would fill the car.  The ladies in the back seat all had polyester suits on.  We would stop on the way a couple of times getting out to stretch.  My goodness they all would brush the dust off their suits, all the while laughing about it.

As we were getting closer to Grassland, my mom said in Dene, “Oh, not too far now we will be stopping in this place called “Greengrass“.  Mama then said in Dene “No, it’s not called that, it’s called “Gasline” and here is Mrs. Tripderoche with her high pitched laugh practically rolling with laughter in the backseat. This was so hilarious.  I couldn’t stop laughing too.  They were all so cute.  Mama is a very strong woman and inside mama she is very loveable, and I love her.”

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