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Texan ashes tell Kahnawake story of generations

Carl holds his son Richard, whose ashes returned to the community of his grandmother recently. (Courtesy Carl Morris)

Mid-March, during the snowstorm that sent students and workers alike home, Brian Goodleaf went to check the mail.

He returned to his wife Michelle Phillips, and placed a 29-pound parcel on the table, along with a story that seems tailor-made for Kahnawake.

“I said, ‘Michelle. We have a visitor,’” said Brian. “It’s cousin Richard, and I put him on the table.”

“It was a great dinner conversation,” said Michelle.

Richard Morris was Michelle’s second cousin, who died in 1995. He was the son of Michelle’s cousin Carl Morris, who sent his son’s ashes to Kahnawake from McKinney Texas, so they could be scattered on the grave of Richard’s grandmother Francis Delisle.

After 20 years of housing his son’s ashes at his home in Texas, Carl decided that, rather than spread them in the States, he would return them to his mother’s community.

“I kept him here not knowing what I wanted to do with his remains,” the 68-year-old Carl told The Eastern Door. “I really don’t like it here in Texas to tell you the truth, and I have plans of my remains being transferred back to Canada when I go. With all the things going on down here, I’m just really unhappy with America.”

Francis Delisle was the daughter of Alice Delisle Diabo (Michelle’s grandmother), and was born in 1926. Alice and Francis’s father did not stay together long, and Alice then married John Diabo. Ida (Michelle’s mother) was born to the couple in 1938. Alice died in 1996.

Francis’s grandmother Louise Delisle (Alice’s mother) raised Francis, who left Kahnawake and married Carlos Morris. The couple soon separated, and Carl only remembers seeing his father once when he was very young.

Sisters Ida and Francis visited each other in Kahnawake and McKinney, Texas. Ida's son-in-law Brian Goodleaf stands with them. (Courtesy Michelle Phillips)
Sisters Ida and Francis visited each other in Kahnawake and McKinney, Texas. Ida’s son-in-law Brian Goodleaf stands with them. (Courtesy Michelle Phillips)

Carl discovered his roots in the community when Michelle, Brian and Ida took a trip to Texas in 1988 to visit their cowboy-hat wearing storyteller of an aunt.

“She used to come and visit my mom all the time, and so we decided we’ll go visit her,” said Michelle. “I didn’t tell her that I was bringing my mom the first time I went, so needless to say she was ecstatic.”

Michelle visited again in 1991.

Francis returned to Kahnawake soon after when her health began deteriorating, and died here in 2004, five years before her half-sister Ida. The two sisters are buried in the Catholic Cemetery.

Growing up, Carl had the impression from his mother that his roots lay mostly elsewhere and not with the Kanienkehá:ka people.

“For whatever reason, she (Francis) made me think that I had a lot less Indian in me and I had more Italian or whatever else,” said Carl with a heavy Texas twang. “Most of my life, I really thought that was it, that I hardly had any Indian, but it turns out, I got a lot more Indian in me.”

The visits from Michelle and her family opened Carl’s eyes to his extended family over 2,800 kilometres north. They are roots he cherishes dearly.

“I’m rather proud of my Indian heritage after I found out I had all those relatives,” he said. “I never really knew any of them because I was so little at the time.”

Carl made one trip to Kahnawake in his mother’s last years, and connected immediately with his extended family.

Carl and his late brother John in Brooklyn, where their mother Francis Delisle lived for a time after leaving Kahnawake. (Courtesy Carl Morris)
Carl and his late brother John in Brooklyn, where their mother Francis Delisle lived for a time after leaving Kahnawake. (Courtesy Carl Morris)

“I just felt a real connection with the people there, the family that came down and saw me when I stayed at Michelle’s mother’s house for a few days before I came back,” said Carl. “It’s not a big story. I just really am proud of being a Mohawk Indian.”

Soon after he returned came the tragic accident that took Richard’s life on a Michigan highway.

“He had run out of gas in his car going back up to his wife in the Chicago area,” said Carl. “They called it a suicide, which is kind of odd because he got hit by an 18-wheeler on the highway after he ran out of gas, which they did admit – that he ran out of gas – but they didn’t have any explanation for him to be in the roadway. I’ve always said that I did not believe that. He could have been out there trying to stop the truck driver.”

Twenty-two years later, Carl and his second wife Quinna Jo Phillips-Morris decided to send the ashes to be with Richard’s cherished grandmother, and contacted Brian.

Michelle said she will spread the ashes on the gravesite in the near future with a small ceremony.

Though he has no plans of moving to Kahnawake, taking up residence or obtaining any land, Carl said multiple times that being officially recorded as a Mohawk of Kahnawake is important to him.

“It’d be something important to me to be recognized as a Mohawk Indian,” said Carl. “More so than anything else in my entire life. It’s now the only thing at my age. It is personal, just for me, but for no other reason.”

He already plans to have his ashes rest alongside his son and mother when the time comes.

“I do want my remains, when I pass away, as well, to be up there with my mother,” said Carl. “I’m so proud of being a Mohawk Indian more so than anything else. It’s just the heritage. I feel closer to that than anything else.”

danielr@easterndoor.com
Daniel J. Rowe
Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from B.C. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press and U.S. Lacrosse magazine. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat.
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