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The Eagle and the Bear

 Megaphone (Canada) 28 May 2019

(Originally published: 09/2009) Megaphone, Canada: As a native Indian child living with a blond haired, pale skinned foster family, Lance realised from an early age that he was different to his brothers and sisters. But every birthday morning he would receive a mysterious totem pole sent to him by a stranger. Lance Furby explains how this anonymous annual gift set him on the path to discovering his family and understating his mixed heritage.  - By Lance Furby


Courtesy of Megaphone

VANCOUVER , Canada - I am a native Indian. I have shiny black hair and a light brown complexion. I was raised in a foster family from the age of three, and they formally adopted me when I turned 16.  I was raised in a loving family of six with three brothers and one sister. The main reason I was placed in this family was I had exhibited symptoms of Cystic Fibrosis and two family members of the foster family had C.F.; therefore I would be in good care. After a few years the symptoms disappeared, and I was in excellent health. The family that raised me is Caucasian and all have blonde hair.

Growing up in this family, I recall having a bubble bath when I was six and my mom was washing my hair. I had all my beloved toys in the tub with me. My favourite toy was a small, hand-carved, red wooden totem pole that was given to me for a present on my fourth birthday.

It came in the mail from an anonymous person. The pole had two figures on top of each other; a bear on the bottom and an eagle on the top. Strangely, I received a small red wooden totem pole each year for my birthday. That day in the tub, I was holding the totem pole in my small hands when I asked my mom, "When will my hair turn blonde?" She assured me my silky black hair was beautiful and that the family I came from all had beautiful black hair. That day in the tub I stared intently at the totem and became curious about my real family.

The curiosity remained as the years passed; each year for my birthday I received a beautifully hand carved totem pole with the same bear and eagle design.

I collected them and placed them on my windowsill beside my fishing poles. I was an excellent fisherman and it was my favourite pastime activity. I had a collection of 13 totem poles when I finally sent for my child-in-care file from the Ministry of Children and Families. I was told the file would have bloodline information regarding my parents' full names and my place of birth. My adopted family had limited hearsay information about my birth family, so I hoped the file would answer some questions. The file was a good start; it told me I was from the Queen Charlottes and had my mother's full name. The file did not disclose my biological family history, nor did it expand on my heritage.

It did tell me I am a Haida Gwaii native from the city of Masset on the Queen Charlotte Island.

When I was 18, we went up north to Prince Rupert. My adopted father had a fish farm south of Prince Rupert, and I was to help my brother build the fish pens. After a few weeks we had a break and decided to go to the Queen Charlotte Islands to hunt game for a few days. When we arrived on the island, I called my birth mom from the hotel and she gave me directions to her house. I felt nervous as I walked and thought of several questions I might ask like, 'Who is my father? Why did you put me up for adoption? What is my heritage?'

I knocked on the door, and my mother answered. To see her for the very first time was a revelation, for I could now see where I got my dark hair. Her hair was long, smooth and silky. She had a nice smile and a soft voice and welcomed me into her comfy living room. We sat on the chesterfield and beside us on the table was a photo album. She showed me pictures of me when I was young and pointed to my father and showed me photos of special ceremonies like the potlatch after her wedding. Our conversation went on for hours. She explained my father had died in a car accident shortly after I was born and that because she was a young, inexperienced mother she was unable to care for me as I was always sick. She thought it would be best that I go into Ministry care.

As she spoke, tears came to her eyes and I consoled her by saying that is what a good mother does; she places her child in hands that will care when she cannot.

She admitted that she was the one that sent me the totem poles and told me that even though we were apart she prayed for me and dreamed of me and carved the little totem poles with love, care and attention. Sending the totems was her way of keeping a relationship with me. I was pleasantly surprised and said they were precious to me.

She explained the meaning of the totem. The two animals were the clans she and my father came from. She is from the eagle clan and he was from the bear clan. She began to tell me stories of my heritage and explained that my heritage is embodied in special relationships with animal spirits. She spoke about the relationship my family has with the bear spirit. According to my mom, my father's family lived in the Nass Valley south of Prince Rupert. For generations they fished alongside the bear.

At one time my great-great-grandfather was saved by a bear after he fell down a cliff and could not move. A bear brought him salmon to aid in his healing. His side of the family has great regard for the bear and has a respectful spiritual association with the bear spirit. She told me she is from the eagle lineage, a powerful lineage with deep mythological meaning. I was transfixed by what she told me as she said the relationship her family has with the eagle spirit is profound.

Our conversation came to an end and I left her house with a clear understanding of my heritage and a new perspective of who I am. I am proud of my identity. I am certain my relationship with my mother and our spirits will deepen. I am tall, dark and handsome-just like my totem pole.


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