It might not have been how Jean William’s family originally planned to help celebrate her 80th birthday, but it was still an enjoyable day made to remember.
Williams Lake Indian Band (WLIB) elder Jean William has been self- isolating in her home at Sugar Cane since the beginning of March to protect herself from COVID-19.
With her birthday on April 27, her son Cody William said family and friends had initially planned to hold a big celebration for her before large gatherings were prohibited by the virus that shortly later would be declared a global health crisis.
Although Jean did not want gifts or a cake, he said they still wanted to hold something special for her.
“I had seen it on TV and a few other places where they were doing these birthday parade celebrations and so I figured if that’s the best we can do right now then that’s what we would do.”
Cody said he then messaged family members and friends about the plan for a vehicle parade before buying signs that said ‘Happy Birthday’ and balloons in Jean’s favourite colors.
As the 25-to-30-vehicle convoy made its way through Sugar Cane at 5 p.m and twice past Jean’s home where she stood outside at the edge of her lawn, Cody said he played the hand drum song Happy Birthday by Red Bull with other people from their vehicles playing different powwow songs for Jean who likes to dance.
“We tried to make it as special as possible for her and let her know that we were thinking of her.”
Jean. who has not seen many people since March 12, said it has been difficult. It was not until April 30 while wearing a face mask and head covering she was able to hold her newest grandchild who was born on March 30 for the first time.
“For me, my health is really, really important right now and I’m just not sure about this pandemic,” she said. “Everybody seems to have a lot of questions but there’s no answers.”
Jean was born and raised at Sugar Cane and over the years has worked as a practical nurse and also as an educator of the Secwepemc language.
An important part of her life, Jean said she credits traditional foods and medicines to her longevity. She said while traditional foods such as moose and salmon are becoming difficult to obtain due to a number of events, other First Nations understand their difficulties and have been generous in sharing what they can including salmon.
“I was just thinking about that one day how people will say if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself,” she said. “I hear certain people say that but I try to live a simpler life. I enjoy my traditional foods, my berries, my deer and my moose and I really enjoy the territory. I think we live in such a beautiful area where we can still have our own salmon and fish, and our wild game and our birds and there’s an abundance of berries.”
Cody said friends and family who were unable to take part in the birthday parade hope to have a further celebration for Jean in the future when it is safe to do so.
“I really enjoy celebrations and it’s really nice to see people come together and celebrate especially during this time,” Jean said of the vehicle parade noting that she had planned to mark her 80th milestone by taking an Alaskan cruise to go sightseeing.
“That was plenty. It was really, really enjoyable,” she said.