• Andy the Indian

    1974. I was nineteen, living in Radium Hot Springs and working in a bar in the National Park Hotel, which is gone now but stood at the junction of the highways where a trucker had let me off—I’d hitchhiked down from Golden. It was a bar frequented mostly by loggers and hippies, and people like me who didn’t know where they belonged. I walked into the worn hotel lobby, where an Indian man—that was the right word back then—was sitting on a wooden bench beside the front desk, also the Greyhound station, looking down at the ragged old carpet. He raised his head, looked up at me with a shy, toothy grin. “Hey, little big fella!” he said, and laughed. “Hi,” I said, wondering what he meant. “That’s Andy,” said the crippled man behind the counter. “Don’t mind him. Don’t you have something to do, Andy?” Apparently not. Andy worked for Kirk’s Christmas trees, I later learned, and there was no work for him right then so Andy was killing time in the hotel. I landed a job, and saw him often after that, in the lobby, the bar, the café. Andy hardly ever spoke. On a Friday or Saturday night if he was liquored up and I was liquored up we exchanged laughs and jokes—“Why is under a bridge the best place to fish when it’s raining? Because the fish go under there so they don’t get wet.” What a groaner. Andy was the love interest of a waitress who worked in the coffee shop—waitress was the right word then—and she lived up the street in one of the motels. Hummer, as she was called, though her name was actually Maureen, was a small and chipper woman, nuts about Andy, and she wasn’t about to let anyone else wait on him, either. There she was with the Pyrex coffee pot the minute he sat down. There she was straightening his collar, and offering to do his wash, and she was a little suspicious of Andy and my exchanges. I had just turned nineteen. Had never hitchhiked so far; had never worked in a bar; had never met an Indian. I liked our casual friendship. He called me “Jilly Con Carne.” He didn’t want anything of me. He was so shy, doubly so when he was sober. In retrospect I see how vulnerable he was, how damaged, gentle, and completely without malice toward anyone. He’s stayed with me all these years.

  • Burgeoning Beard

    The summer of ’76 I was a hippie wannabe staying at a Christian commune outside Kenora, a small city in northwest Ontario close to the Manitoba border. A friend, Hans, who had spent the previous summer in Bloodvein River, a northern Manitoba Ojibway community, arrived for the weekend and said there was a powwow happening in town, so we went. The MC started with a joke about three elders in a canoe. Waves were up and they were scared. First one says, “We should pray.” Second one says, “I am not sure how.” Third one says, “I’ve been to church, repeat after me: Under the B, 5 . . .” As we stood next to a tier of semi-empty bleachers watching a display of ceremonial dancing, an Aboriginal boy, three or four years old, snuck along a row toward us. He got close, ran up and slid his hand along the underside of my chin to feel my somewhat burgeoning beard. I turned to him and he bolted back to his parents. We all laughed. I asked Hans what the deal was. He said facial hair wasn’t that common on the reserve. I looked over at the family and they were still smiling.

  • Pay A Visit

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    The first contact that I could think of came through my father. He was a business administrator for school boards. And he used to have to go to meetings. Continue reading “Pay A Visit”

  • Playground

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    And the reason why I thought of bringing it up was because in that time I had no concept of really anything to do with First Nations issues. They were just kids on the playground with me. And we just played and we were in that space. And then now, a year, about a year ago, I met the same person in Port Alberni who I hadn’t seen literally since elementary school and we were there in Port Alberni for a reconciliation walk. Continue reading “Playground”

  • 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”

  • What’s that got to do with it?

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    We would be refused service, we would be thrown out of stores. Continue reading “What’s that got to do with it?”

  • Medicine

    I was out in the woods with my friend, Ed (he’s Tsleil-Waututh). He cut a piece of bark off a tree and told me to chew it. He had long hair that mostly hid his face, but behind his hair I could see that he was trying to suppress a smile. When I refused to eat the bark, he started laughing and said “Good. Because we call that plant Indian Ex-Lax.”

  • Thankful

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    I have a memory of my family talking about when they came in the 1800s to Canada from Germany, that they had a tent and they were all set up. And in the fall, the First Nations people came out to show them, to dig into the hillside and make themselves accommodations there. And so they did, and later they found out it was so cold. We owe our survival to the First Nations coming out and making that contact with them, letting them know how to survive. Our family is eternally thankful for that.