Claudette Michell, Sîsîkwan wâsaham, Miskanahk acahk iskwew ka-pimakwaci, (Rattle that Glows in the Dark, Turtle Shooting Star Woman) from The Pas and Winnipeg returned to Great Spirit last Friday. Tradition teaches us to be happy for her passing. However, her sudden death at the age of 46 is difficult for our community to bear. Claudette was a mother, grandmother, cultural educator, pipe and drum carrier, storyteller, sun dancer, community helper, mentor, researcher, and coordinator.
Claudette was inspired by her family. It is with her kids’ support and strength that she was able to go to college and university as an adult learner. She completed a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Aboriginal Governance and Conflict Resolution. She also graduated from Aboriginal Self Government and Business Administration programs.
Claudette valued her education as integral to reclaiming her identity. As a student working with an Elder and an Aboriginal mentor she learned about her culture and the history of Aboriginal people.
Claudette has said, “When I was able to begin that process I was able to reclaim who I was as a human being, as part of Mother Earth. I was able to open up those doors so that my spirit could come alive, and could come back to me. I need that help because I couldn’t do any of this if it wasn’t for that spirit. I know one thing, when you’re on a spiritual journey, it’s so wonderful.”
Although she passed through many troubled times as a runaway living on the street, substance abuse, poverty, and domestic violence; she contributed many things in her short life.
She helped set up healing circles for residential school survivors and has been a community helper for numerous organizations including the Circle of Life Thunderbird House, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and Aboriginal Governance Students’ Association. She was on the planning committee of Healthy Child Manitoba National Child Forum 2012, and National Aboriginal Day on Powers and Selkirk, and a member of the Advisory Committees of Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre, and SEED Winnipeg.
Claudette mentored and supported students in achieving their dreams. As Program Coordinator at the University of Winnipeg’s Urban and Inner-City Studies, many relied on her outstanding ability to bridge the gap between community and the university. She was integral to implementing the Beginning University Successfully program. Later this month, her children will accept an award on her behalf at the University of Winnipeg convocation.
Claudette lived in keeping with Traditional ways. She drummed with a group of women from Winnipeg and sun danced with a Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan group. In her own words, “I learned to value and believe in myself in all areas of my personal medicine wheel of life. The most important thing was learning how to let go of self-doubt. I found ways to do this by working hard on healing from my past.”
She was a gifted storyteller, and volunteered with a group of intergenerational residential school survivors to tell her story in person and on video. She freely shared her life experiences and teachings about Traditional spirituality.
She had been experiencing debilitating headaches since the summer, and on October 5, 2012, passed away suddenly of a brain aneurism. Sacred fires burned in her honour for four days.
Claudette was a shining star of our community. She walked in a good way on Mother Earth, and we have all been blessed for having walked at the same time that she did.