Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day Thirty-Three: Watch Out, Those Pretty Words are Loaded

I’m driving out of the valley and I’m too late to be early like I’d planned, so that I can Treaty Walk Edenwold, so now I settle for pictures from the windows: Broken Pavement 8 KM; Slow Down and Save Your Windshield; Edenwold, Home of Your Memories Past, Present and Future; Edenwold, Dangerous Dog Bylaw. I see an eagle and screech to a halt, only checking afterward if someone is behind me. Nobody there, but the eagle gets above my roof, and by the time I swing out of the vehicle, he's too far away.
The children give me an Edenwold welcome howl. They are thirty-eight souls strong, bouncing with energy. The wolf pack are most interested in my table tennis poems, and they want me to do table tennis tricks. I'm bouncing an orange ping pong ball from my forehand to my backhand, back and forth, back and forth. "Can you hit the ceiling fan," one student calls. I whack the ball higher and higher, but I hit the cathedral ceiling, not the fan, and the ball goes out of control.
I'm happy to see my friend Robin in her principalship. She told me when we first discussed my author visit that their school was focusing on the medicine wheel teachings, and I assured her we could work that into my presentation, but we forget that conversation. I don't even tell the kids about my Treaty Walks, but I do talk about Black Lake and some of the lessons I learned about life while living within the Dene community; things like, it's okay for men to wear bright pink beaded flowers on their gloves; strings on mittens are actually technology; grown men can wear strings on their mitts, too; and many of my Dene friends are traditional and modern at the same time. I read some of my children's books, translated into Dene and the kids especially enjoy, The Orange Baby.
I stop for sloughs, potholes, road signs, and I have to pull right off the road because the roof of an old house is going to fall off any minute, and I want a picture first.
I sit on a stool in the theatre style classroom. The students at James Hamblin sit on the three-tiered floor. Midway through my session, I thank the kids for their gift to me, the gift of listening. I end with the lights off and my Treaty Walks cued on the computer projector. I read the first paragraph of yesterday's blog, then story-tell the rest about walking and thinking about writing letters, then walking in the door and hearing the interview about the inequality in First Nation education in Canada. I take the kids to my first blog posting, "Afraid I'm going to flake out" and I ask if they've ever had a dream, but they were afraid to go for it. "Well," I say, "I was afraid to start this whole Treaty Walks thing, but, " I pause. "Today is day thirty-three." I punch my fist into the air.
The students clap and two girls make their way through the younger kids. They thank me and present me with a school mug. "Watch for this in a tree near you," I say, holding the lovely black ceramic with green interior, and a removable green spoon built into the handle.

I am escorted to my Envoy by three girls. "Where should I go, if I want to take a walk? What are the sights?" I ask.

"In our small town?" one of the girls says.

But soon another is pointing at the old opera house, and it's also a library, and someone should be in there if I want a tour, and there are cells in the basement, and really old toilets. Another explains that Qu'Appelle was almost the provincial capital and I should really try out the restaurant downtown.

Kids are walking home for lunch and I receive waves and "hi" in the streets. One of the girls knows my youngest and asks me to say hi. Two boys are hanging out at the memorial and they give me a tour of the old school replica, tell me the old hospital across the way is haunted, and then they'd like to be in a picture, so I ask them to sit in the swings with their backs to the camera. Security reasons. They understand. I tell them I think it's great to see a war memorial beside a playground. Sure this is why the veterans were fighting. For the children.

Their main street is a history book, every building a new page. I flip through the buildings. There are four flags flying at the end of the street below the train tracks, and I wonder if they are flying Treaty Four too, but as I get closer, I see the fourth is the American flag, just like in my home town of Estevan. Then I look to my right and see "Custer's Tattoo". Really? Really? I remember there are rumors of Custer artifacts in Lebrett, but I don't remember any details. I remember watching that movie where the museum comes to life and Custer is one of the good guys. I ruined the movie for everyone. I couldn't sit quiet. Really? Really? Costner's memories of Custer in his Samori movie is closer to what I imagine to be true. I can't watch the massacre scene that haunts Costener's character. Those people are the ancestors of my friends and students from Standing Buffalo.

I'm sitting in the cafe eating Wor Wonton, drinking jasmine tea, and I'm remembering my friends from Hong Kong and my visit a year-ago at Easter. Noris is walking along with me on my blogs, and she is no stranger to the theme of Colonialism. I remember being surprised in some of the Hong Kong museums and interpretive sights, seeing the story of British Colonialism, very similar to our own.

I am using green fine-tip marker in my morning pages journal and I write... I think I should write a letter to the town of Qu'Appelle, congratulating them on their Walking Tour which celebrates their history and asking them if they may be ready to begin telling their own story and relationship to treaty and would they be ready to join the City of Regina and be rural leaders, flying the Treaty Four Flag. I should find out where a person can buy a Treaty Four flag, and then add up the costs of a flag, pole, installation, and then send an estimate along with my letter. Very practical. And maybe they could add treaty honouring facts along their walking tour. Maybe I should research an option or two, and send that along with the letter.

I pour my cold tea into my James Hamblin mug. Rinse the newness out of the green inner ceramic, just like Noris washed our chopsticks, bowls and tea cups with the first pot of hot water. I dry the mug out and pour the rest of the pot into the mug. I pay for my meal, snap a few pictures, and walk on.

And this is where I think my treaty walk story ends for today, but on the way back to the school I walk up the steps of the Town Hall and the door is open. I see huge, polished wooden steps leading upward to the right, I see a Library door to the left, and an open door, with voices coming from the farthest door to the left. I walk toward the voices. I ask about the cells in the basement, but the lady who knows the history -- and where the light switch down there is -- is busy. In the mean time,sure I can check out the Opera House upstairs. Sure, go ahead and sing if you like. So I do. The room is dusty and painted green with dead bugs everywhere, but the acoustics are playful, and I imagine what it would be like to harmonize with someone from this stage. Who were the people to stand and taste this space with their voices and ears?

Downstairs I hear the local historian still engaged in conversation. I stand in the hallway, feeling a little silly, wondering if they could hear me singing. I look at the pictures that line the hallway and a word pops out at me like a slap from the past -- Scalping -- written in the most lovely script. A picture of a soldier with his hand at the base of another soldier's head. Really? Really? I slowly walk and look at each picture. Some of the wounded. Sewing the dead. Buring the dead. Big guns. Riel trial jury. Riel addressing the jury. Asleep in the trenches. Scouts on lookout. Moosomin -- a loyal Cree. Regiments at Fort Qu'Appelle. Reporters at Regina.

Carol, I've learned her name, has some time for me, and I ask about the pictures. They were sent from the government of Saskatchewan to Qu'Appelle in honour of the town's hosting of Metis Days back in the 1980's. Carol says it was quite the event, red river carts and everything, lasting almost a week. I ask if the pictures are all from the Riel Rebellion. Yes they are, and Qu'Appelle was a gathering place for the soldiers, taking the train from the east. General Middleton even stayed right here. But Carol doesn't know anything more about the pictures; they were sent just like they are, framed, with no interpretations or explanations. She follows me down the hall. I tap the one before the doorway -- Scalping -- and what about this one?  I don't know, she leans in. Kind of loaded, hey? Raised eyebrows. Nods.

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