Joanne with her grandchildren in 2007. C. Carlson
As a child I never imagined all the wonderful things I would get to do as a woman. Back then, few women worked outside home. Music was important—my sister and I sang duets, and played piano and violin from age four, performing at churches and in prisons. I was a bundle of energy and dared to try anything, but I got into trouble a lot.
All through school, my friends and I loved learning about our amazing world. When I was 13, Grandpa died, and Grandma came to live with us. She brought her old pump organ and played hymns with her eyes closed, tears running down her cheeks.
After high school, new roles developed: “college student” at 17, “wife” at 20, “mother” at 25, “single parent” at 30.
My life whirled around responsibility with two little girls, yet we shared love, hugs, and joy. My daughters taught me to love, to communicate, and to be brave and joyful, as I discovered what I was capable of. Life rushed on – I worked in education, sang a lot, and acted in films – and the girls came too. I worked sometimes at four jobs to pay the bills, and I honestly don’t know how I did that. We owned old houses—sharing chores and learning building skills, to make them home. Two were in Norwood, one was an old farm where we had horses, calves, and collies.
There was no time to ponder womanhood – we had too much to do! We had some tough times, but we learned that together we could overcome almost anything. As the girls grew into women they made me proud. Our roles changed as they found their own paths. It was their time to shine, and for me to hold my tongue. I went on to graduate school, earning a Master’s and Ph.D., as I survived cancer.
My Arctic students inspired my doctoral research. I was honoured to film many interviews with Indigenous women Elders. I grew courageous and strong as I listened to their life stories.
I taught at universities. In Virginia, I worked with a Black community to rededicate a forgotten slave cemetery. I learned about racism when my life was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. I was afraid at first, but realized I must be doing something right if the KKK wanted me dead.
Back in Edmonton I bought an old house in McCauley, and got to coordinate the painting of murals along the LRT. I taught art at the U of A and began singing, and playing violin again. I feel lucky to have found so many ways to make a difference. I never imagined I could do all these things.
All these experiences showed me what I could do as a woman. My path was not easy, but I was honoured to find myself in positions where I could make a difference. I seized opportunities as they came along. One was managing a college campus in Yellowknife.
Today as women, we still care for our families, but we have many other ways we can make our world a more kind and loving place. For me, teaching and sharing music and art are ways we can make a difference. I know we are all truly blessed!