• When I was a child, everyone I knew spoke Cree

    I grew up in Misipawistik (Grand Rapids, Manitoba), an Inninew village of about 400 people. The village was separated by the Saskatchewan River, the reserve was on the south bank and the Métis community was on the north side. But at that time, we never identified as status, non-status or Métis. We were Inninew, Cree-speaking people. Our language identified us. In all the time I spent with my nookum (grandmother), I never once heard her say a word in English. People who dropped in to see her, spoke to her in Cree. She would not acknowledge a visitor if the person didn’t speak Cree to her. That was how she was: her home, her terms, her language. There were two families in our village that were Caucasian: the store owners. In those families there were three boys, blond as blond could be, and they spent as much time with us as they did at home. They all spoke Inninew, Cree with us. To us, their friends, they were just a whiter shade of Inninew. We never knew that outside of our isolated village we were different, until Manitoba Hydro arrived to build the Grand Rapids Generating Station. Manitoba Hydro created a tiered system in which they were on top, the workers they brought in were second, the Métis third and at the bottom were status and non-status people. The dam flooded more than 200,000 hectares of our land. Worst of all, we nearly lost our identity, our language.

  • Pallor

    When my mother and father were first married they spent three years on Baffin Island where my father was the only doctor. During their first year my mother looked after a newborn Inuit boy who was not well enough to go out on the land with his family for the winter. When my oldest brother was born the following September, my mother was disappointed and even repulsed by this pale little thing who was so different-looking from the brown baby she had grown to love. This was one of my mother’s favourite stories and there were many others, from both my mother and my father, which, along with an album full of photos, a collection of ivory carvings, a narwhal tusk and a few Inuit words that my father would utter, were an integral part of my childhood.

  • Namwayut, We Are All One

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    You know there are no words even beyond memorable for this person that I love so much. It was my paternal grandmother, her name was, Thunder Bird Lady. She used to say to me and my other cousins of course, “I am nothing my precious one.” There will be long silence and I wonder what “what are you talking about” Continue reading “Namwayut, We Are All One”

  • Ready For It

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    About 90 – I guess 1992 – my wife and I at the time had the misfortune of losing our first child. It was a pretty dark time. I was selling photocopiers – Sharp photocopiers – at the time out of Duncan. I had a lot of contacts with First Nations – Mid-Island Tribal Council (which I don’t think exists anymore) and a few others as well. Continue reading “Ready For It”

  • Continuum

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    Adam Shewish, the late hereditary Tyee Ha’wilth – the hereditary chief of the Tseshaht – and I worked quite closely together for a number of years. I was working with him, his wife, Margaret Shewish, and his aunt, Auntie Mable Taylor. I was telling them a story that I had read. It was about a 100 year-old story being recorded – the recording had been 100 years ago. Continue reading “Continuum”

  • Carving Legacy

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    I’ve been carving Native art, from small pieces to large pieces including: totem poles, doors, panels, for the last thirty years now. I hadn’t really got too involved with art in my younger days. I was too much involved in politics. Continue reading “Carving Legacy”

  • Wisdom

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    In 1996, I was elected the mayor of the district of Tofino in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s territory – Nuu-chah-nulth territory. I had the opportunity to go on a five minute boat ride just across the waterway to Meares Island to Opitsaht, which is one of the communities in the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s territory. It’s actually where the seat of their government is. So I went and met with the chief councillor and his council. Continue reading “Wisdom”

  • Carving

    Moving to Vancouver a half-dozen years ago from Toronto I found a city where, to my shock, Indians weren’t just down-and-outs on downtown street corners but actually people with homes and families and jobs. In my neighbourhood there are two homeless Natives, brothers, Danse and Frank, who are there every day, dishevelled but not drunk, spending their time mostly making wood carvings. I was impressed that there could be quid pro quo, not just spare change, so I started to buy some of Dance’s carvings. Over the years we’ve gotten to where we chat when I see him, and I try to help out when he has problems, like the time the police took his tools claiming his Olfa knife was a weapon.

  • Close to Home

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    With my position with the Inter-Tribal Health Authority, we offer ophthalmology to First Nations community members throughout Vancouver Island. Continue reading “Close to Home”