Recently, I combed through my archive of 25 years’ worth of personal diaries for a project about my relationship with love and desire. Going back over my life was illuminating in ways I hadn’t expected. Events I thought I remembered accurately turned out to have been different than my memory depicted them. With a sense of shame, I read some truly awful ways I had treated people I loved. I also quickly skimmed and skipped some of the more traumatic events of my past. There was a big chunk that was mostly missing, from a manic episode I had that I was so appalled by that I ritualistically burned all the offending diaries and writings and drawings in a fire four years later. Yet mostly I was grateful I had held on to these remaining messy, weird, flawed, private thoughts. With the passage of time, I could see truths in situations I couldn’t read properly at the times they were happening.
There were a lot of dreams I wrote down too. Some of the meanings of dreams I was having in my twenties only became clear now that I am reading them at forty. One dream was of a bear cub leading a sweat I was in. I remember telling my mom about it because I often talk about my dreams. She told me my great-great-grandfather had a bear cub robe in his medicine bundle.
I didn’t think much more about it until someone posted a story on Facebook from an archive where my late grandfather, Stan Cuthand, talks about the first time Plains Cree people encountered smallpox. My great-great-grandfather, Misatimwas, had gone with some other friends to steal some Blackfoot horses, and came upon a Blackfoot camp where all the people had died of smallpox. He returned home dying of smallpox, and his father, Macinam, had this bear cub robe from a cub he had tamed who was killed by others in the camp. He wrapped this bear cub robe around Misatimwas and healed him from smallpox.
I had read another archival story about that robe being used to heal Misatimwas when he was nearly killed by a gunshot through the belly while he was the War Chief at the Battle of Cutknife Hill.
I brought it up to my mom, who is now the oldest generation of Cuthands since my grandparents have passed. She said the same robe was used to heal my grandpa of Spanish Flu when he was a baby. The robe was buried with Misatimwas in an unmarked grave on our reserve to keep grave robbers from stealing his bundle, around the same time our ceremonies were outlawed.
Personal and ancestral archives for Indigenous people can exist as diaries, and photos, and dreams, and oral stories passed down through generations. Sometimes we worry all our history has been wiped out by colonization. But then sometimes the universe sends clues and blood memory to fill in the blanks.