—by Anne Anderson
Dream Genealogy is a way of understanding the world of our ancestors. Although we are not devoted to genealogy exclusively on Voyageur Heritage, the search for our roots is a very popular part of our French Canadian and Metis cultures. In this piece Anne Anderson, a Canadian Metis and French-Canadian community leader, researcher, writer, and performer, presents a new way of envisioning our history and our ancestry — by tapping into our subconscious and collective memories to discover our ancestors through dreams.
I was doing the housework and listening to talk radio. It was many years ago, and as a genealogist, I had been wondering about one particular family line, the Desmarais from France. Many of the Desmarais not only looked like they were part First Nations, but also had peculiar “raccoon eyes.” I wanted to specifically know what part of Europe they came from and I wanted to know if there was some link between having dark circles and a particular ethnicity.
The talk show was about something I had never heard of, “Dream Genealogy.” On the show a gal was talking about how our ancestors want to be found, how we honour them when we do genealogy, and how they will come into our dreams to help us solve genealogical mysteries if we allow or invite them. This was something I related to immediately: ancestors had visited me in my dreams since I was a kid. I decided I would try this.
I put a notepad beside my bed, and said a prayer to my ancestors to come into my dreams and help me learn the true ethnicity of the Desmarais family. It didn’t happen that night, or the next ‑‑ in fact it took a week or so before it happened. Then one night my dream was filled with photos of the Desmarais family plastered all over the front page of what appeared to be a newspaper. And just like the headline for the end of WWII was one word: “VICTORY,” the title of this page filled with family photos was also one word: “IBIDSKI.”
Well, I woke up and immediately wrote down IBIDSKI, and then I lay there trying to figure it out. I wondered if it was someone’s last name. It looked possible, but I had never heard of that name before. But rather than toss and turn I decided to get up and “Yahoo” the surname to see if anyone had that name. Surely if someone did, I’d find it on Yahoo!
There was only one entry that appeared, and it was not a surname. For some reason the word didn’t seem to have anything to do with the information on the link it was attached to, as if maybe it were a typo. But I clicked on the link to arrive at an essay written by a man about — what else — the genealogy of his family in early New France!
In this article he mentioned that he went to France to trace his family surname, only to be shunned by the village priest because his surname was actually Jewish! Researching further, he discovered that there was a whole list of people in New France who, some researchers claim, had originally been Jewish. They had fled to France during the Spanish Inquisition and sure enough the name “Desmarais dit Abraham” was among them.
The second time I tried dream genealogy I wanted to find the exact tribe my fur-trading ancestor’s Cree wife was from. I put the notepad beside my bed, and asked my ancestors to come to me in my dreams to give me some clue as to who they were. And once again it didn’t happen right away, but took about a week before I had the dream.
I was with them — in their village, and everyone, from the very old to the very young was there. I only asked them one question — “How will I find you?” to which they answered only one word — “Atikamek.” They all said it at the same time, very loud, and unsynchronized, just like any crowd might say something. There must have been 50 people all yelling at the same time, “Atikamek… Atikamek….” Some yelled it so loud that it was hard to understand the ending, but I woke up with the gut feeling that the word was “Atikamek”.
I wrote down the word as quickly as I could because I knew that if I didn’t do it right away, I would lose the last part of the word. And then I thought it could have also been “Atikanek” or “Atikanan” or something similar, so I wrote those down too, but my sense was that it was “Atikamek.”
It was just after 3am and I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and went to the computer to check Mapquest. The only town I could find was near Thunder Bay, a place called “Atikokan.” I zoomed out to see where it was in relation to Temiscaming, because that’s where this Cree ancestor was when she gave birth to my great-grandfather.
But you know when you get a gut feeling that says it’s just not the right place? Well I had that gut feeling. It was just too far from Temiscaming to be the place. Still, I did other searches for Atikokan, and read about the town and what was around there. There was no mention of Cree people and nothing that would indicate that this could be the place.
Several weeks went by when I had another dream. In it, my sister and I were heading to this place Atikokan, but instead of driving on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, we drove via the US, starting from Detroit and following the roads along the water’s edge. In the dream, we had just gotten to the north shore of Lake Superior when my sister tells me we have to go back because “I forgot to bring the ring”, (which was a reference to a wedding band that belonged to this ancestral family). When I woke up I sensed that this place, Atikokan, was not where I would find them. But for some reason the gold ring was a clue, the meaning of which still eludes me.
Years went by, and now and again I would mention this dream to cousins doing genealogy but none of us had come across any place names that were close to the word “Atikamek.” Then one day, years later, I was having lunch at my desk, and now I was “Googling” for information on the Cree tribes. There was a now whole page about the different kinds of Cree — plains Cree, northern Cree, James Bay Cree, Swampy Cree, etc. And in one tiny paragraph there was mention of a group of people who today live in 3 small communities in northern Quebec, and their tribe is called “Attikamek.”
I couldn’t believe it! I was stunned. I sat there looking at the word, wondering if maybe I was imagining that it was the same word from years before. I was trained and worked as an archivist, and having learned many stupid lessons, I knew where to find out. That night many years ago I had made a text file in which I described the dream and the word “Atikamek.” I saved the file on my hard drive, then archived it. So when I got home, the first thing I did was go and find that file, and sure enough, the word was “Atikamek.” I sat there at my desk and started to cry just a bit. I couldn’t believe I was so fooled. It never occurred to me that the people in the dream were not referring to a place, but to what they called themselves.
The article mentioned that they were distant cousins of the Cree but have a distinct dialect and that they were displaced by war and their tribe might be part Cree but nobody is really sure. But telling me their name was the best way to find them. Then I remembered as a girl having dreams of my ancestors in wars, and I was with them, running away with all the other kids, hiding in the mountains and the woodlands. And as a child this seemed strange to me because having grown up in Essex County, Ontario I had never actually been to a mountain. But reading about them fleeing to the mountains north of Quebec and having dreamed this many times as a child, the connection with this group of people, the Attikamek, was very strong and suddenly felt so real.
The craziest part of this experience came a month later from that day I was sitting at my desk and discovered them – the Attikamek. It’s so crazy I can hardly believe it, but it seems that the time was right for me to learn about them. If I hadn’t discovered them one way, I was going to discover them another way. There was a guy who sat in the next cubicle section. I barely talked to him over the course of many years simply because there was no reason and not much opportunity. Then I had recently started being on projects with him, so now we had the odd occasion to speak about work together.
One day upon coming back to my desk, he was talking with the co-worker in front of me who was saying, “Ask her… don’t be shy… she’ll talk about it.” So I asked what was going on, and the other guy says, very hesitantly, “Are you a Native American?” to which I replied, “Yes, I’m part Indian, why?”
He proceeded to tell me that he grew up in a small town near an Indian reserve, and that I remind him of some of those people who live there. He said the texture of my skin, the texture of my hair, even the shape of my frame and the way I carry myself was like these people — and that even though I don’t resemble them exactly, he could “sense” that I was very much like them.
When I asked him what tribe these people are he said, “they call themselves Les Attikameks.”
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