Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day Twenty-Nine: Walking On Sunshine

I open the hundred-year-old glass door on my great, great aunt's china cabinet and remove my Isle of Skye mug. I carted the mug in my backpack all over the British Isles, Belgium, and Holland, I think, surely it can last the day in a tree of my choosing. But I'm worried. I haven't even drunk from the ceramic for five, ten, maybe twenty years. In 1988 I made a pilgrimage to the Isle of Skye in honour of my childhood Shetland pony, Skye. I walked all around the little island, sketching rather than taking pictures because film and developing was so expensive. I was even journalling; all those writings now lost. And what about missing the ferry and having to stay a second day, alone, on the island. Travelling the British Isles, alone.

It's raining. That's okay, I think, I'll take the umbrella. I'm dressed, coffee in hand, shoes on, and I open the closet. No umbrella. I dig. I get down on my knees and rummage. I run up the stairs, shoes and backpack still on. "Arwen, Arwen," I wiggle her toes. She has crawled into Moira's bed as she often does in the morning. "Arwen, do you know where the umbrella is?" She doesn't answer, just shakes her head. "Are you sure?" Back downstairs, I pull jackets apart, one by one, and discover two umbrellas, neither one the one I'm looking for. Who knew? I think.

Droplets -- I take a picture of my mug on a mossy branch -- everywhere there are drops hanging like glass bubbles. On the branches, on the rose hips, on passing vehicle windows where the window wipers can't reach. Before the ski hill there is a downpour and bless my neighbour's heart for stopping. "Do you need a ride?" he says.

"No, I'm fine." I jiggle my umbrella as proof.

"You must be a nature lover and a photographer, I see."

I nod. He smiles, rolls up his window and drives away.

I pass the store-in-a-trailer and really look at the sign. "Treaty Four Gas and Convenience Store" I think it reads. I pass the governance centre and spot a lone dandelion puff. At the river I stop to check if the beaver has dragged away his felled tree from yesterday. If I could just write the word "wolf willow" or "red willow" and then scratch the page and the earthy, cinnamony-sweet smell could waft in the air, I'd maybe think I was a good writer. But I can't, so I keep moving, texting Jade as I realize how late I'm going to be for our 8:00am visit.

In period two we have a guest presenter, Donny Parenteau's "Follow Your Dream" tour,  brought to us by the Gabrielle Dumont Institute. The grade sevens from the elementary school and students from Leading Thunderbird Lodge have joined us. The gym is packed and Parenteau is standing with a few of us at the door of the gym as we're ushering stragglers into the assembly. Parenteau laughs at the teachers who catch a few students trying to skip out the back door.

Parenteau tells his story. Growing up poor. Being called half-breed at school. Trying hockey, trying baseball, and then finding the fiddle. He'd found his dream. He knew he wanted to play at the Grand Ole Opry. He tells the kids they can sit back and blame life for not giving them the breaks, or they can get out there and chase life. After making it to the Grand Ole Opry, playing fiddle for Neal McCoy, he'd asked his mother what he should do. She said, "Make a new dream." Twelve years with McCoy and Paranteau decided to come home to Prince Albert and make a name for himself in the Country Music Business. Most people were confused with his decision to leave the good life, but an elder had told him that he'd left because he wasn't able to be creative, and he needed to be creative.

He already has our kids in the palm of his hand, but then he takes the stage where his fiddle, mandolin and guitar are waiting. He has us clapping, whooping, stomping our feet. At one point a couple of our Educational Associates jump up and start dancing, and then I see Moira and her best buddy, Sweet, polka-two-step-hopping down the isle and to the space under the stage. Moira is wearing five inch heels, so she towers over the diminutive Sweet. As I watch the girls dance, it hits me. They are the two hands shaking on the treaty medalion. One is First Nations and one is British; they are treaty people doing the treaty dance: friendship, equality, and reciprocity.

I think back to my own people's early treaty dance. My father's father's mother was the first white baby born in the Estevan area. When she married, the first people left a deer in the tree as a wedding gift. My mother's father, who grew up near Thesslon, Ontario, had ringworm as a little guy. A neighbour, Frank Bamageisik, an Ojibway medicine man, asked my great grandfather why he wasn't treating the little boy. My great grandfather explained that the doctors didn't know what to do because he was infected in his eye and his bottom. Bamageisik left and then returned with a poltice. He applied it and when he returned in three days, the ringworm was gone. My great grandfather asked Bamageisik why he didn't share this medicine with the doctors. He said, "Tom, they've taken our land and our livlihood, they're not taking our medicine, too."

I think about my mother and father taking me to pow wows when I was little and we met Chief Dan George. Buffy Sainte Marie and Winston Wuttnee were part of my childhood soundtrack. "Now that the buffalo's gone..." I can hear her voice mourn. "As I walked out on this land of my own, a voice seemed to cry out to me. Winston this land is not all your own. Cry out everyone, let's share it," sings Wuttnee.

Our oldest daughter attending the unveiling of the Chief Piapot statue at Regina's city hall with her best friend Ciara and her dad, Ron Crow. Arwen and her bosom buddy running back and forth at the Standing Buffalo Pow Wow and Arwen showing us a few steps Talisa had taught her. My BBFF (no, that's not a typo) Charlene whose laughter and stories are my medicine. I think of all the gifts my people have been given by the first people: land, livlihood, healing, friendship, celebrations, music.

On my way home, I take my jacket off and I walk sleeveless, sponging in the October surprise sunshine. I take some pictures of myself along the railway where the track splits in two, thinking back to what Parenteau said about facing crossroads in our lives. I take some more pictures in the hay field, sun at my back. I think about my buddy Char and the song she themed me, "Walking on Sunshine." Just another gift, this time a gift of identity.

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