Amy Ghostkeeper was born twenty-four weeks after conception: too early to survive, but that’s exactly what she did – survive, at least for the first two years of her life. This is the story of Amy and her family, recorded so there will be more people that know of her.
Amy’s mother, Candace Ghostkeeper, was a young First Nations woman of nineteen years old. Candace and her man, forty-two-year-old James, already had Joey, three years old. They were a happy family living in old town Widelake by the river in a section that flooded repeatedly over the years. Their house smelled damp in the spring when the river’s level rose almost to overflow its banks, and some years it did indeed flood their yard. Nevertheless, they stayed, as it was band land and James’ entitlement. They couldn’t afford to buy any land somewhere else anyway.
Their home was a handmade two-room log home heated by a wood stove. They gathered the wood from crown land hauling it out of the bush with James’ dilapidated truck that he fixed endlessly each time it broke down. They lived on what food they could collect from their own efforts by fishing, hunting, and gathering berries. It helped that they lived close to a lake with enormous reserves of jackfish and walleye, also called northern pike and perch. Plenty of moose and deer as well roamed around Widelake in this northern part of Alberta, Canada. I guess you could call their life style traditional. Occasionally, the couple would make a trip to the food bank when cash was short and Candace needed to buy staples.
They kept to themselves and seldom went into town, about a ten-minute drive further uphill toward the south. James was not a drinker. Candace had no other ambitions than to be a mom. They went everywhere together, little Joey following his mom and dad without complaints.
Candace was a quiet and rather timid woman with long hair that she kept in a braid. She was tall with a proud, upright posture, always dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt or a T-shirt on warmer days, although there were not that many of those in northern Alberta. She was a good person, a good mother and a loyal wife to James.
Although James was quite traditional, he sported a short haircut, possibly in an attempt to look younger, always covering his head with a ball cap. He was a tall man with a handsome face and hair that showed grey streaks. James already had adult children from a previous relationship. He had left his former partner to live with Candace when she became pregnant with Joey. James’ relatives did not support their relationship and did not visit. Candace’s relatives lived in the next town forty clicks down the road and did not travel much. The little family was quite isolated.
Candace and James were not involved in political gatherings or in the local First Nations’ council elections, nor did they cast their vote in any non-Aboriginal elections. Once in a while James would drop Candace off at the Legion in town for a few hours of Bingo in town – her only entertainment – while he looked after Joey. Life was good. Candace loved being a mother to little Joey and looked forward to having more children. Joey was a big boy, built just like his dad and he looked older than his three years. Candace became pregnant again and she told James happily that she was sure this would be a girl. The public health nurse was aware of the family through the birth of Joey, and she had educated the family about prenatal services. Candace went to her doctor regularly for her maternity check-ups.
On a particularly clear night – it was full moon – Candace could not sleep and was more restless than other nights. Her stomach hurt with cramps and she thought she might have indigestion. When the pain intensified, she became scared that something might be wrong with her baby. She and James went off to the local hospital, taking Joey with them.