Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day Seventy-Eight: Solidarity Walk

There's a knock at the front door. "Anyone home?"

"Come on in," I call from the kitchen.

It's our colleagues in the front entrance, Rod in camo sweats, Bert Fox sweatshirt and jacket and Jack in gum boots, trackers, yellow bunny-hug under a black jacket. I'm just pulling my ski pants over my walking pants.

"Where's the old man? Is he still in bed?" says Rod.

I run up the stairs, throw a few clothes from the floor to the laundry basket. "Come on up, boys," I call. "He needs some help waking up."

"What are you guys doing here," Michael says as Jack and Rod pile in bed.

"Picking up your wife, buddy," says Jack. "Can't believe you've never walked with her to school."

Jack is the full time teacher at our school division's Education is our Buffalo program. He's been planning to walk with me since the fall. It's kind of symbolic that his out-of-the-box education program is located in Lebret, former home to one of the last residential schools to close in Canada. "Nobody's walked with you yet," he'd asked again last week.

"Nope. Nobody yet," I'd said.

"Okay, good. I want to be the first."

I remember meeting Jack's mom from the Yukon on the first day of school, and I felt like I was being interviewed by a funky radio celebrity duo, they were so interested in my writing and teacher philosophy and all of a sudden I was telling them about my crazy idea to blog and walk to better understand treaty. I remember Jack's eyes, round like a cartoon character. "Yah. Do it. You'll always be able to say that you were there," he'd said. "You'll never regret it."

Back in the bedroom, we leave Michael alone. I continue packing. As I come around the stairs I hear Jack say, "I don't care about the treaties, I want to talk about my problems."

"You'll need a lot longer walk than just to school to do that," says Rod. "You'll have to walk to Regina."

I come around the corner. "So I hear we're walking to Regina."

Rod drives away. I finish packing, pull my parka on, and throw Jack a safety vest. "You wanted the whole experience," I say. "Safety first."

He grins and slips into the orange neon. We step out into the morning. I'm too warm and I'm glad for the cold air. We chit chat down the lane. Finding our pace right in the middle of the road.

"Okay, this is supposed to be a treaty walks," I say. "Tell me what you have been learning about treaty."

Jack starts talking and he tells me of a documentary series he's watched about the history of the southern nations and how he knows more about the states than Canadian First Nations and he mentions the ties from the American history to Standing Buffalo. He talks about his homeland, theYukon, where land settlements are in progress and their absence of all the extra clauses, like Saskatchewan's treaties have the medicine chest clause.

I wish I had brought a tape recorder. Jack's voice is animated, as it always is, and his dialogue is punchy. He leads with expletives like a spice-lover pours on the hot sauce.

"What solutions have you come up with all this walking." Jack's long legs are moving us along at a strong pace past the ski hill.

"Well," I say, "I guess I've learned that it's all pretty complicated."

"Oh come on," he says, expletive omitted, "Don't give me the cliche answer."

I laugh. He grins. "No. No," I say. "I've been thinking about racism for years, and whenever I try to talk about it, I alienate people."

"True that," he says, expletive omitted.

"And so what I've learned is that I have to find a new way to talk about these things, and as I've been walking, and writing about one or two little things every day, I've begun to learn how complicated things are, and that people can't hear the issues unless they are in the context of a story that they can understand and so my walking has opened up conversations that I could never have had otherwise." I'm breathing hard, talking this much and trying to keep pace with Jack.

"I get it," he says. "But really, and I don't mean to be a downer here, but really, what good can any of this walking do. It's just one person. Change can only happen systemically."

"That's so true," I say, "But for me, it is at least doing something, and if someone like you joins me, then maybe that's change, but you're right, we need systemic change."

Michael pulls up alongside us, rolls the window down, leans over. I snap a picture. We make sure we know what the kids are doing after school. He drives off.

"We have some of our best talks out here on the road," I say.

"I'll bet."

"It's like we leave the crazy of home and just take the time to talk," I say.

We talk some more about the overwhelming state of settling land claims and treaty relations, and we are already at the bridge. We walk and talk some about the health benefits of walking. Jack wonders how I'm feeling, if I'm noticing any better fitness and if I might make some goals, walking quicker every day by thirty seconds, "If that's even part of why you're walking," he adds. Then we talk more about the tension between reality and philosophy. How kids have to face their own reality, no matter how tough their pasts have been or what they're up against. Jack worries he's too harsh. I worry I'm too soft.

We turn at the cement yard. "Oh, we're going cross country," says Jack. No expletive, but lots of enthusiasm, and then we are at the school. Just like that, it's over.

The rest of the day is like sleepwalking, literally, as people walk around in their pj's on pyjama day. It's Jade's last day and we are business as usual, hanging out with kids, checking email, laughing with colleagues, playing games and watching a movie in the afternoon. After the buses are gone, we gather in the library to say our farewells to Jade. Cathy makes a beautiful speech, and I blubber something about being so lonely once Jade is gone. We invite anyone who wants to visit a little more with Jade to our house and a few come. We laugh and teacher-talk, then everyone leaves, and it's just Jade, Michael and I. Our girls are with friends. We order Chinese food, laugh like family, and then Jade and I watch Stranger than Fiction, laughing at all the English teacher jokes, and then, just like that, it's over.

Later I remember a part of my conversation with Jack:

"What's your favorite part about these walks?" Jack had said as we turned the corner at the bottom of our coulee.

"Do you mean the land?" I'd motion with my hand in the dark. "Or the philosophical parts?"

"Either and both," he'd said.

"I love this part in here." I'd waved my hand in the dark, behind me along the hills, and ahead of me toward the lake and the treaty four grounds. "I take a lot of pictures before the hospital when there's light."

Today is December twenty-first, the longest night of the year. Soon the light will be returning to the morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment