Hospitals like Charles Camsell were part of these crimes, although Shirt said she was treated well by staff. She told a story of a kind nurse who paid for her distance learning, and that’s what made it into my article.
But she also said: “I wonder if I really did have TB, or if they were just doing experiments on me. I never did find out.” She had stayed there for two years without seeing her family. She couldn’t even walk around – she had to be constantly resting. Those details should have been in my article.
Andrea Watchmaker of Bent Arrow Healing Centre worked with Shirt, who was the elder for the Coyote Pride program, for 13 years.
“From the first time I took her to a school, I thought: Wow, she’s got to come back,” says Watchmaker. “She was very, very good.”
Shirt came back and then just kept coming, often on a weekly basis, sometimes more, to speak about land-based teachings, Cree language and traditional ceremonies to young children. She’d even camp out with the children and smudge and pray with them.
Just a few weeks before her death, Shirt delivered one more talk; she spoke of Indigenous medicine, without mentioning her own illness. She was so full of life that her death came as a huge surprise to everyone, even her granddaughter, Kathryn Chodzicki.
Chodzicki now works with Coyote Pride. On her first day, she was nervous to start in the role of Indigenous program leader for the program. She looked up, and there on the wall was a giant photo of her late grandmother. Chodzicki knew Shirt taught children, but didn’t realize it was through Bent Arrow. “She was so humble and so in the moment spending time with us, she wouldn’t talk about herself or the work she was doing,” says Chodzicki.