by Stephanie Levits
One whiff of sage and Georgina Faith Papin’s memory comes alive for her daughter.
Burned during First Nations rituals, its scent brings Kristina Bateman back to a 1997 powwow in Mission, B.C.
She was 12, her mother 33.
They hadn’t seen each other in about 10 years, since Papin had left Bateman in Las Vegas to be raised by her paternal grandparents.
As she left Las Vegas, Papin turned to Ruth Bateman, Kristina Bateman’s grandmother, to say goodbye.
“I’m glad she will have a chance that I never had,” Ruth Bateman remembers her saying.
Papin and her eight siblings had been farmed out to foster homes as young children.
By the time she was 18, Papin had lived in dozens of different homes and institutions.
But despite her on-again, off-again addiction to drugs, Papin never forgot her daughter. She called on every birthday and each Christmas.
“Oh hi my girl,” she’d say when Bateman picked up the phone.
She’d send her daughter parcels and pictures, always with a little note scrawled on the back.
Each time they’d hang up the phone, Bateman would look at it and wish her mother would call again.
And she always did, eventually, until the calls stopped coming in 1999.
“That’s how I knew something was wrong,” Kristina Bateman said.
The last Ruth Bateman remembers hearing from Papin was in early 1999.
Papin hadn’t been feeling well and was planning on checking into some kind of care facility.
“I said,‘Georgina why don’t you get out of the life you’re living in and come back here with us, and be with Kristina?,’” Ruth Bateman said from her home in Las Vegas.
“Then I never heard from her again.”
Around the same time, Papin stopped in at a baby shower for her friend Maggy Gisle, whom she’d met at a recovery house.
“She’d gone to a court hearing about her children and she didn’t get what she wanted and she was really, really upset,” Gisle said.
“She told me she was going downtown.
“She said she wanted to go drinking with her friends.”
Police say Papin, 34, was last seen in March 1999.
Kristina Bateman keeps in touch with one of her six siblings, all of whom were born between 1987 and 1998.
When she saw her mother for the last time, in the summer of 1997, Papin was drug-free, had two of her sons living with her, was pregnant with twins and, as Bateman remembers, happy.
The one night they stayed together, Bateman remembers talking with her mother, hearing about her life and her heritage.
“Everywhere we went, people always went ‘Oh hi Georgina,’ everybody knew her,” Bateman, now 22, said. “I was really proud that she was my mom.”
It was important to Papin that Bateman have more than a passing association with her First Nations heritage.
At the powwow, she arranged for Bateman to be given a traditional name – Snowbird – and made her an outfit to wear for the ceremony.
“She made me a dress, I remember I was really excited for that, she made me moccasins, I had all these beads I wore,” Bateman said. “And she braided my hair.”
The duo also made little packets of sage to hand out and Bateman keeps one of those still.
Papin’s connection to her Native heritage – she was a member of the Enoch Cree First Nation west of Edmonton – made her many friends over the years.
While serving time in now-closed Oakalla prison, she was the Native sisterhood liaison, tasked with going from cell to cell trying to interest Native women in their culture.
“She was really nice to me and helped me out,” said Gladys Evoy, who now works as a family outreach worker in Vancouver.
“She was very strong in her belief system and in her heritage and culture.”
Papin had connected Gisle with one of her brothers so she could learn to make moccasins, and she was also known for her bannock, a type of bread.
“She really liked cooking, she liked to make dreamcatchers, moccasins, she wanted to open a little store,” Kristina Bateman said.
“She loved making things for people and making people happy.”