By Brett Larson Inaajimowin Staff Writer
When Ed St. John sees Moccasin Telegraph columns by the late Beatrice Taylor, it affects him deeply.
Not just because of Beatrice’s unique storytelling and insights on Ojibwe culture and traditions.
But because Beatrice was Ed’s mom.
When he saw her latest column, Ed called the Ojibwe Inaajimowin to share some of his memories of his late mother, a beloved resident of District III.
He cut the Moccasin Telegraph article out of the paper and hung it on his wall. Now, when he comes to his office in the Corporate Lodge in Hinckley, where he works as a driver for Health and Human Services, he says, “Good morning, Mom. How are you?”
What Ed remembers most clearly about Beatrice is her generosity.
“She’d always give rather than receive,” said Ed. “She always had things stashed away — sewing or gifts — and when something came up she’d grab one of those things and tell me to give it to someone. I asked her once, ‘Why do you give so much, Mom?’ and she said, ‘Because there’s people out there who aren’t blessed like we are.’”
Beatrice also made time for people. Whenever someone came to visit, she would have them sit down while she prepared a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee. “That’s what Indians are supposed to do,” said Ed. “Now you hardly see that anymore.”
Beatrice raised her family — seven boys and four girls — in the Pine City area near their relatives, the Churchills and LaFaves. They attended ceremonies at Aazhoomog, and the boys learned to sing while drumming on old tires and coffee cans.
Beatrice and her husband, Louis St. John, worked in the rutabaga and bean fields, cut timber, picked blueberries, and went ricing.
Beatrice shared her knowledge with her children, grandchildren, and community. “She taught us a lot about the culture,” Ed said. “I understood where she was coming from when I started getting on the drums and going to ceremonies.”
For Ed, that’s another lesson people can learn from Beatrice. Folks today often lament the fact that young people don’t listen to Elders, but Ed points out that Elders need to take the initiative to teach their kids and grandkids.
“How can they learn, if we don’t teach them?” he asked. “How are the children going to know wisdom if we don’t share our knowledge? How will they learn the Creator’s laws if we don’t talk to them about the laws? How are the little kids gonna learn to send their offerings to the ones who went on before us? How are the youngsters going to learn to sing their Indian songs? How are they going to learn how to harvest? That’s got to be taught.
“How are they going to learn anything if the parents or grandparents don’t teach them? It’s up to the parents to step up to the plate with the youngsters and teach them. If you don’t know, there’s an Elder out there who knows. Don’t ever be afraid to talk to an Elder.”
Even the Elders who have passed still have things to teach, Ed says — another lesson from Beatrice. “The other thing she taught me was to shut up and listen,” Ed added. “You’ll pick up on things that will matter in life.”
His mother still appears to him in dreams, and he remembers her when he puts out tobacco or a dish of food for the manidoog.
Ed tries to model Beatrice’s giving spirit to his own kids and grandkids by helping people with rides or groceries. “She’s right,” he said. “It does feel good to give someone something they can’t afford.”
Ed also follows her example by visiting relatives and friends. “Now I’m an Elder, and Elders have to do that.”
Ed doesn’t expect anything in return because giving is its own reward — another lesson Ed learned from Beatrice.
“Mom said a hug or a handshake or a thank you is a high gift,” he recalled. “You don’t need all this money.”
Photo: Ed St. John learned a lot about being Anishinaabe and being an Elder from his mother, the late Beatrice Taylor.