Today we planned to go a little way to see the scenery – some say that the views are even more spectacular when you get away from the campsite. However, our plans changed when we are notified that the local band invited us for lunch in their community so the trip South has been cancelled. It is such an honour when something like this happens – it is a sign that we have been acknowledged and respected for doing things with their culture in mind. The canoe has been such a focal point for the first nation people for hundreds of years: their trade, community, bus, transport. To see a large canoe being used respectfully must bring tribal memories back to their people. The native population have been systematically oppressed in Canada and even up to 1984 the state (led by the church?) has encouraged the taking of children from their parents and putting them into residential schools where the children were subjected to torture, sterilisation, and experimentation. [For more information see http://www.whale.to/a/annett.html ]
“The residential schools created two kinds of Indians: slaves and sell-outs. And the sellouts are still in charge. The rest of us do what we’re told. The band council chiefs have been telling everyone on our reserve not to talk to the Tribunal and have been threatening to cut our benefits if we do (Harriet Nahanee to Kevin Annett, June 12, 1996).
It must be hard for the native people to trust outsiders since they have been brutally treated by church and government, and even their own. Chris has the policy of not discussing negative issues but I don’t have that policy. I believe that to understand a person or people you need a balanced view and this means you have to hear the negative influences that have led to the current state of that person or community. In understanding their painful background I have a better understanding of their current plight. I am not saying that the native people should be protected or given special privileges, just that they should be treated as human beings with their own voice and their own distinct and valuable way of living. I have seen inside a few of the reserves over here in Canada and they reek of hopelessness. The people have had decades of oppression where their very world view has been attacked and, in many cases, destroyed or reprogrammed. The residual suffering is apparent in the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol within the reserves and this is a problem that many native people have talked about. I believe that encouraging native communities to get their young people out of the rut – perhaps by involving them in youth exchanges with young people in other countries would help the whole community. Youngsters would get a chance to share their own culture and therefore learn about their own history. This would certainly be a positive thing and would hopefully help the youth to avoid the traps that the older members of their communities have fallen into. From what I have learned about the First Nation people, we have much to learn about how they live (or used to live when they had their culture) in the world. There is a book called The Future Eaters and, regardless of the content of the book, the title is very meaningful to me. So called civilized society is based on consuming, consuming everything – natural minerals, land, food, cultures that disagree with our own faiths. First Nation attitude seems to say ‘why grow more food than you need?’. Indeed, this seems to me a wise premise from which to base a lifestyle.
This invitation shows that the local First Nation community are open to outsiders that show a sympathetic attitude and that says to me that there might therefore be a way we, specifically I, can help. After my many encounters with these strong and peaceful people, I feel that I want to do something, and that I can. My skills with the internet may provide a useful service to these people – to help them to communicate with others and make links but not to take control, just to act as a bridge – and I feel that my future lies in such an endeavour. I feel that it is important not to do the work for them but to provide tools that they can use and help them to contact others who have done what they want to do. Any bridge has to connect two sides and I am rooted, reluctantly at times, in a modern mind view but am beginning to understand a little of the other side – a mind view that works as part of nature, whose very languages are based on how the people interact with nature. Perhaps a tall task but, hey, I’m skinny and so I look tall from a distance.
Anyway, back to the dinner. The crew drove up to the band office at the agreed time and we were initially treated to slightly hostile stares (I guess there is tension between First Nation people here and some white people – not surprising from what I am learning about recent history) until they realised that we were the canoe people, then their faces relaxed into warm smiles and their voices into friendly tones. We were invited in and given cups of tea and shown to a comfortable seating area. We were early and had the pleasure of chatting to a number of people, including one chap who was extremely knowledgeable about fishing and wildlife in the area. It turned out that he had been very influential in altering attitudes towards fishing in the area.
When all the hosts had arrived we were invited to the entrance of the eating area to wait to be officially welcomed. An interesting prayer/blessing was spoken before we were invited in to be seated – it was in their own language but they used the catholic gestures of the cross on their chests before and after the blessing. Someone asked if it was a catholic prayer but ‘no, it is our own’ was the reply. It would be interesting to hear a translation – I didn’t think to ask. Chris said a few words about who we all were and what the Spirit Dancer project was about then we sat amongst the local people and chatted and ate – both went wonderfully.
As with previous meals provided by First Nation hosts – the food was excellent and plentiful (even though the community invited us at such short notice today). Their people had come from all over the community and brought food to treat us with: rice, bannocks, sausages, dried salmon, fresh salmon, Indian ice-cream[i], home cooked soap-berry cake, and special tea. It was more than we could eat – and we were offered more. It was a culinary delight!
After the meal everyone made their way to the campsite and to the canoe – the community were going to bless the canoe and its crew so that we had safe journeys. Three of the youths, young girls, chanted for us and played their drums. These youths are ones that will carry on and spread the culture of the people for all to learn – this sight and the realisation warmed my heart: here was the future hope of the First Nation people. Chris responded with his very moving journey song.
Two of the women, elders I think, then blessed the canoe and crew in their language and using juniper twigs with the lake’s water to anoint each one of us. Again, I didn’t feel that we were seen as ordinary white people but were being shown special honour and respect.
Me and Marilyn took out some of the bravest of their community (all women I noticed) for a short trip in the canoe. On our return, the lake showed signs of a growing wind: the surface of the water lost its mirror-like quality about a mile or so away and this menacing line of disquiet was coming my way. I heard one or two of the men say ‘I’m not going on the water with that coming’ so I handed over the helm to Chris for the second journey. As expected, he had no trouble with the rougher weather and he brought all his passengers back safely – all grinning. If I had taken them out, they might have been grinning but they might also have been very wet.
The afternoon started to wind down and people took photos, exchanged hugs and warm words and we were left alone to contemplate a life in harmony with nature. This has been one of the most active and progressive First Nation communities I have so far come across and I think that the youth here are particularly positive – they may be able to blaze a trail for the youth of other communities. The fact that even the young people here can speak their original language is a wonderful sign.
Back on my own – I did tend to stay apart from conversations, mainly because I wanted to absorb the environment here and didn’t want to dilute it with talk on more abstract issues – I looked around me and appreciated Chilko.
The crows were mocking overhead – perhaps mocking my long beard; flying and looking out for anything dead or discarded. The aspens trembled and glittered with the back-lit sun; their leaves mimicking the rattling of the pebbles in the gentle waves of ice-cold water. In the distance loons occasionally wailed away their sadness with the echoes from the high mountains. The fading sun played tricks with the light reflecting of the glaciers on the jagged peaks. The wind seemed to wander aimlessly and randomly like a huge beast guided, sleep walking, by the interplay of cold and warm air which climbed slopes and then returned to the lake by a different route. Each time it reached the water’s surface it left large footprints of waves where it had just been smooth. I could sense that it would be a dangerous beast if awoken – I remained still and quiet. The fish seemed to be doing the same and only slight hints of fin-trails showed on the water’s surface. Yellow butterflies wandered nervously in and out of the sunbeams between the trees following some invisible trail through the air to a potential mate or a meal of pollen. As the light faded the beast was left to sleep and even sound itself retired apart from the rattling of squirrels and the glow of their curious eyes in the light of the crackling fire. Then even those eyes closed, the fire died and the silence triumphed – and I slept peacefully.
[i] Recipe for Indian ice-cream: http://www.michaelsmeanderings.com/2008/09/indian-ice-cream.html