APTN National News
Annie Pootoogook’s daughter Napachie can transform herself into laughter.
It begins with her moon-round face, the slow glow of her deep brown eyes and the smile with wattage sweet like that of fireflies in glass jars.
And then she transforms into laughter—joy like light refracted in water droplets exploding into colour.
A laughter with no memory of sadness.
Stardust glittering at dawn.
Napachie is four years-old. She celebrated her birthday two days after her mother was found dead in the Rideau River.
Her adoptive parents told Napachie her “tummy mommy” was gone. Napachie told them she wished she could hug her.
Pootoogook gave birth to Napachie at about 4 a.m., three hours before sunrise, on Friday Sept. 21, 2012, on the floor of the bathroom at a homeless shelter in Ottawa.
Napachie was 40 cm long and weighed 3.8 lbs.
The little girl, who is named after grandmother, was taken to the hospital shortly after her birth and remained in isolation for 10 days.
She’s never really been hugged by her tummy mommy, but she’s been hugged lots by her adoptive parents. She now lives with three siblings. She is the second youngest. Her oldest sister, Elizabeth, is her biological second cousin who was previously adopted. Napachie’s older and younger brothers are the biological children of her adoptive parents.
APTN National News interviewed Napachie’s adoptive parents and agreed not to publish their identities or photos of Napachie that would identify the child.
Napachie’s adoptive father is Algonquin who himself was adopted out as a child. Napachie’s adoptive mother has experience working in northern Ontario and Nunavut and caring for children with developmental challenges.
Napachie now thrives in the happy chaos of a large family. Balloons from her birthday party still hang from the curtain rods by the glass door to the porch. A poster with characters from the movie Frozen still on the wall wishing her a happy birthday.
Napachie likes to curl up on her adoptive mother’s lap and one of her favorite dolls is Minnie Mouse with ears that glow.
Her very first word was “dog,” likely because her family has two small dogs. Then she said, “bye,” and then “mama,” then “dada,” and “Ellie,” the short version of Elizabeth, name of her sister who shares the same birth last name of Pootoogook from the land of their roots, Nunavut.
“It’s hard to believe what she’s gone through,” said her adoptive mother. “The first week she came to us, her health started to fail. It was like she was in shock. Little by little, she came back to us and it took the whole family to do it.”
Her adoptive father spent a week in the hospital with her.
It was shortly after a story appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Pootoogook expressing her desire to raise her daughter that the family first contacted Child and Family Services (CAS) offering to help in any way they could.
They wanted to give Pootoogook all their baby supplies outgrown by Elizabeth.
“We thought there was likely a connection and we were in a situation that we could help,” said the adoptive mother.
A year later CAS contacted the family and asked if they wanted to take Napachie.
“There was no way we could say no,” said the adoptive father.
He said the family was already prepared to adopt any of Elizabeth’s biological siblings and when CAS asked if they could care for Napachie, they quickly took her in.
“We didn’t know how close they were. We know of the naming customs in Inuit culture, how they passed down names and last names, that they would have been related,” said the adoptive father.
The family has never met with Annie Pootoogook. It was a closed adoption.
“We didn’t pursue her and our understanding was she may not have wanted that, either,” said the adoptive mother. “Would Annie have been in a position where she could have had a relationship with Napachie? I’m not really sure.”
The family planned to take Napachie when she was older to meet Pootoogook because they never imagined it would end like this.
When she was pregnant with Napachie, Pootoogook told APTN she wanted to pull her life back together for her child.
“I want an apartment, I want to start drawing and take care of the baby,” said Pootoogook at the time.
Since the death, the family has forged links with the Ottawa Inuit community and they are planning on travelling to Cape Dorset, Nunavut, for the funeral which will happen after Ottawa police release Pootoogook’s body.
Ottawa police are currently treating Pootoogook’s death as suspicious.
Investigators have been trying to piece together Pootoogook’s movements before her death. It’s known she left an apartment she shared with her partner of eight years William Watt a little over a week before she was found in the river. Friends say Pootoogook lived in fear during has last days alive.
In an interview with APTN, Watt said Pootoogook told him once he wasn’t Napachie’s father.
On May 20, 2014, the family signed the official adoption papers for Napachie. They celebrated with pizza and yogurt. Yogurt is one of Napachie’s favorite foods.
“I think Napachie’s story is one of strength,” said the adoptive mother. “She came from hard times and she persevered. She thrived. You would never know she had issues eating or walking if you met her now. She’s stronger for having come through it and we’re stronger as a family for going through it together.”
In many ways, this is the gift her mother Pootoogook gave her. She pushed Napachie into life from the edge of the city, where the broken and lost seek shelter, near the deepest part of night, at the turning of the season when summer fades into autumn. She pushed her into an orbit inhabited by backyard swing sets, a yellow tubed slide, a blanket with flowers, fish gummies and soft embraces. She pushed her where the constellations are brightest.
“She was meant to come to us and we were meant to be here for her,” said the adoptive mother.
Napachie’s sister Ellie drew a crayon picture on lined paper. The drawing is of Napachie, Elizabeth, her two brothers and their mother. They are on a bridge over water with little fish swimming below blowing bubbles.