Identity… who am I …. ?
I was born Catherine Rosanne Wachell to Curt and Rose Wachell. My father heritage is Czechoslovakian and my mother’s is German, French and Native American (Cree and Sioux). I like to say that makes me a ‘canceled Czech’. I was raised only knowing I was Canadian.
My mother (nee Rosaline Hintz) was a devout Catholic and taught catechism and Sunday school and read to us from the bible. I remember my first communion and my confirmation and always felt close to God, likely from my mother’s strong influence. When I was about 6 years old I had a profound dream about Jesus and the devil ( good and evil) that my family still talks about to this day.
We moved to Alberta where I started grade one and completed my schooling at Sturgeon Composite High School just outside of Edmonton near the Namao Air Base. In grade four my mother started studying numerology and I was thrilled to choose a new name for myself! I confidently announced to my class, with my teacher at my side, that I was now, Robbin Whachell.
For most of my teen years I dated the same guy (5 years). My first job was with Standard General Construction, where my father was manager of road works. It was not until after high school graduation that I found myself single again. I moved into my oldest sister’s home. I’d been working with the Alberta government in records and information management. At one point I took a moonlighting job as a coat check girl in a nightclub. I did so to help earn money for a 6 week European vacation which I know altered my view on the world. I moved up the ranks in my information management career to a couple other Alberta government departments before moving to BC with my brother. There I continued in information management with Price Waterhouse Chartered Accountants.
It was in Vancouver that I met and married chiropractor, Dr. Brian Blower within a couple months and we began a family immediately. I had been busy developing a career in the corporate world for about 8 years, but with my husband being in the health profession, I decided that his world was a far more fulfilling field to be involved with, and so I started assisting as an office manager at his clinic, and began studying healing modalities.
After I had my first child my desire to return to my love of acting had me sign up for night classes. I got an agent, and soon began dabbling in auditions, bit parts and took filmmaking workshops. We moved to North Vancouver up Indian Arm and had three more children around 2 years apart; those last three I birthed at home in water. So much for my acting career! Motherhood became all consuming, but was and still is the most fulfilling career of all.
We decided to move to The Bahamas after our fourth child was born. We longed for warmth and ease of life, and no taxes. I immediately fell in love with Grand Bahama Island. I never knew the feeling of euphoria in everyday life before, but I felt it there. I felt I’d come ‘home’.
Ironically it was in The Bahamas where I became more connected to my native heritage. I read the book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and had an identity awakening that I had not expected to be so profound. It was also during this time that my family in Canada discovered that we could apply for Metis Status due to my mother’s lineage to the Dakota (Sioux) and Cree tribes.
Life in Grand Bahama continued on, and I was a busy active young mother, involved in local soccer programs as a coach and player. I studied Reiki while there, helped form a writer’s group; and even home schooled my children for four years.
During that time I started something I had no idea would grow to be so big today. I began to share information via email to my local contact list. I began harvesting email addresses, always blind copying, and would send out emails about island activities, upcoming events, news bits, etc. I soon moved to a weekly newsletter and my email list grew as people began requesting to be added to my database.
The idyllic island life took an ugly turn as my marriage unraveled and a lengthy separation and divorce ensued for eight years. After separation I put the children back into school. Could I now – a single woman, survive in a foreign land while continuing to nurture the growth of my children? I so loved The Bahamas, that I had no thought to return to my birthland. Being female in the Bahamian court system was not an advantage, and my lawyer and I fought to keep my children and family life in balance.
My weekly newsletter continued to gain popularity and my email list grew exponentially with readers even from the USA. I was not allowed to work due to my immigrant status, and continued this activity as a hobby, and saw it as a good deed, and my way of giving back the community I lived in. The financial hardship of the separation, as a non-working mother was extremely difficult and I realized something had to give.
Then I heard about the Bahamas Film Studios, a proposed 70 million dollar facility that was coming to Grand Bahama. I had to pinch myself, as I’d given up all thoughts of being involved in film again. I reached out to the CEO and he hired me as his personal assistant after reading my online overview of his project. This did not go over well with the locals, but I was approved through immigration and things were good to go. However that was short lived, as it didn’t take long for the local ‘coconut express’ to have words buzzing all over the place and within government. My boss, a foreigner, was so worried about all the red flags he was seeing, due to my hiring, that he felt he had no option, but to let me go. Ironically he hired another foreigner and got into the business of bringing in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC), which interestingly enough I was also hired for, but it took them two months of struggle with immigration to get me on board. I worked my butt off for 8 months on POTC II and III, to find out that Disney had not paid my work permit fees, so a day came when the guys in green suits escorted me out of the production office for questioning. Management for Second Mate (the title of the Disney project in Grand Bahama) had by then changed hats and the new head felt I was not worth the immigration fees and let me go. The project was three quarters through, and it was sad to not see my name in the film credits, and instead see names of so many I had a hand in hiring.
All through this very busy time, I was still dealing with my divorce, a teen daughter who was venting out via drugs and alcohol, and keeping my weekly newsletter going, which seemed to be the one thing that remained consistent. My email list and newsletter had grown so much that I had to find new solutions in disseminating all the information I was gathering and being given.
I ended up partnering with Bahamian, David Mackey of Mackey Media Ltd, and we developed a website called TheBahamasWeekly.com, providing a location for my newsletter content and a platform to send my weekly updates from. We worked day and night, and I continued doing so without an income.
Then a miracle happened. We interviewed a man that used to head Bahamas Immigration and was then an immigration consultant. He said I was a tourism ambassador by the work I was doing for The Bahamas and he took on my case. I had a permit to work within the year.
Over those years (and through those jobs) I dealt with racism and jealousy. Because I was a white foreigner, many assumed I had money. Because I dressed well and am attractive, people assumed I was ‘taken care of’ by someone, or had money,,. Believe me, at times I wished I was big, fat and ugly, because then many people, mostly women, would have paid no mind to me.
I’ve been the brunt of much controversy in The Bahamas, most of which was behind the scenes from the general public. Through all that adversity I put on a happy face, kept my poise and maintained my dignity, and stayed true to the task at hand, that of creatively sharing information that brought good light to Bahamians and the country; and the enormous task of raising my growing children on an extremely limited income.
The Bahamas Weekly grew and grew and still has a great reputation to this day. My business partner David Mackey and I were pioneering in online marketing and of course we also had fierce competitors and copycats. Some of my competitors took it upon themselves to personally try and have me run out of the country… for doing what you may ask? Simply supplying information and getting an income for it via advertisers on our site. A Bahamian friend would often say to me, ‘You love The Bahamas more than Bahamians do.’ I just see such promise and beauty there, sitting idly, and I want to shout and share it with the world.
I was attacked behind the scenes so to speak. A couple of my competitors were out to get me out of the country entirely. They stopped at nothing and for years slandered my name to anyone they could, but mostly to politicians and those that ran immigration. Each year I had to prove why I should remain there, and how I was different than a Bahamian. You see, for IF a Bahamian could do what I was doing, I could then not do it. Without this work, I would not be allowed to remain in the country, even though my separated husband lived there and we had 4 children. Even though this was an online business and one I created and drove. It became my annual struggle. The work permit renewal process itself took almost 6 months. I’d get approved with a great sigh of relief, put my head down and work, and in 6 months it would start all over again. There were lawyers involved and many people came to my aid to support me in my staying. The irony was, that TheBahamasWeekly.com WAS ME. How could I let go, or hand off something I created, worked tirelessly on to someone else? It was my baby!
Through all of that my love for The Bahamas grew and grew, and of course so did my opportunities with my work. I was lucky enough to interview such notables as Sir Sean Connery, Pierre-Yves Cousteau, Johnny Depp, Lenny Kravitz and many many others through my work. For two years, I was seen on a Grand Bahama Island tourism TV channel, when my business partner started sharing looping video content of years of our work through our connection with the local tourism office.
Finally, with my children growing into their teen years, and the older ones heading back to Canada for school, coupled with my parents being in their golden years, I decided I was exhausted from the annual immigration fight. With social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and tools like Skype, I knew I could likely run my internet-business from Canada. I also had developed a wealth of contacts in the industry. I took a leap of faith, and I decided I had had enough, It was time for a change, and to come back to my homeland.
Coming back to Canada was not what I had expected. My sister, the angel, had an apartment all ready for me, right down to food in the fridge and beds to slip into directly from the airport. I live on the 32nd floor of a highrise now, up in the clouds in my nest. I only missed two days of down-time in my work in the transition from Bahamas to Canada.
My world here has changed so. Long gone is the Canada I remember from my youth. I am okay with it, but it’s quite different. I often feel like a minority here now. My neighbours are mostly Asian, Persian or European. Hearing foreign languages is an everyday occurrence. I am still adjusting to being back and have been tapping in to some of the Native developments that have taken shape during my time away. We just found out our status as Metis’ may soon be full Native status in the latest court rulings. That’s cool too, whatever that means… and if it really happens.
Lately I’ve asked myself, do I have a right to call myself Native? I am caught between so many worlds…my heads in The Bahamas, but my body is here. I am Native but I’ve been away for so long, while so many others have fought for the rights of many. What is my place?
I look at the word “Identity”. [Personal conception and expression; Specifications of persons –] Who am I really?
We cling to things that seemingly create our identity, like our skin colour, beauty, religion, hairstyle, wardrobe, home, car, habits, yet its the core of our beliefs that define us when the lights go out.
I am a woman, a mother, a lover, sister, friend, colleague, confidant, teacher, and I aim to be a good example to everyone I know, but mostly someone, I can live with – day in and day out, and that is me.