Joseph and Susan Francis raised their family close to the coast all year. They followed the seasonal round of their Mi’kmaw ancestors. They had twelve children, their youngest a daughter they named Serena. By the time Serina was born, her parents had lost five of her siblings to illness. They told Serena her job was to stay alive. Serena’s parents mentored her in the traditional life of the Mi’kmaw, living off the land.
Serena Francis lives in the largest Mi’kmaw community in New Brunswick. She is a knowledge keeper of sky and water teachings. She sits as a senior advisor to the aboriginal treaty right negotiations for Elsipogtog. Serena is a fluent speaker of her language and created an online Mi’kmaw Language course for high school students in New Brunswick. It is the first of its kind. She retired after thirty years of teaching, but language remains her passion.
As a knowledgeable elder, fluent speaker, and gifted storyteller, Serena is often called upon to teach. She responded to an invitation to share her knowledge about blanket making. During this event, she was impressed and inspired by the leadership among the young people. In particular she was moved to do more for Mother Earth. Serena has organized water ceremonies and walks to support the waters, lakes and ocean. She has become a strong advocate to protect the water.
At this stage of her life, Serena desires to share her love of the language and the art of storytelling to the next generation. She wants to pass on the rich oral tradition that she was raised in. She recalls her mother saying, “We need to create a better future for our children,” and she mistook that to mean a better financial future. In time, she learned that her mother meant spiritually. Serena believes the way to do that is by teaching children who they are and to know their ancestral connections. “Knowing this will help them create a better life for themselves.”
Serena knows that people often doubt themselves. She understands this is a learned behavior after 500 years of colonization. The answer she found is to claim, practice, and pass on intergenerational knowledge. She is committed to do this.
“I am not only capable, but I have the courage to move forward because I love and respect myself. The work that I know reflects that.”
Photo Essay: They Found Us
Serena and Future Legacy Leader Susan Bernard (Mi’kmaq) held ceremony, space, and brought together community members of all ages to honor, remember, and grieve the 215 children found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.