Thursday, January 5, 2012

Day Eighty-Three: Charcoal's World

Pictures of the farm at sunset -- moss covered corrals, collapsing sheds, barbed wire, barn slat lighting -- lead the photo essay, followed by a full-family trip to cousin Angel's Blown Away beauty salon. Mothers and daughters laugh, tease, sleep -- make coffee runs-- through cuts, dyes, trims, curls, highlights, straightening, and even an eyebrow trim for Bill. Mid-essay one picture shows the hard cover Charcoal's World by Hugh A. Dempsy resting on a knee. Charcoal's somber eyes glance slightly to the right away from the camera, his long, black hair framing his face. While the family enjoys a day of pampering, Charcoal is planning his own 1896 death.

"By this time, the frustration was beginning to show. More than 100 men were scouring the country for a lone bow-legged Indian in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. Not only had he outwitted the patrols, but inept officers and delayed messages had plagued the campaign from the beginning." (p105)

The photo essay ends with pictures of this morning's walk to school. A mug left in a tree. A snap of the world's largest tipi, lit in orange with town lights twinkling on the horizon. A streetlight and snowy street. A drift at the field's entrance. A package received from across the Atlantic with six cans of authentic Hong Kong Milk Tea.

What does this have to do with treaty? The students sitting in a circle consider their returning teacher's treaty walks photo essay.

"It's a family together, spending time together."

"Nothing. This has nothing to do with treaty."

"The land; they have the land because of the treaty."

"Yes, you see, this is my world. The farm, the family, the success, that we can treat ourselves to a day of pampering because we have employment, that my cousin can have employment, this is all because of treaty. My people could come peacefully to this land because of treaty and build a new life."

"But you should really tell about how people were ripped off; their language and land was basically stolen."

"Yes, that's what the book, Charcoal's World, was telling me in the middle of my world. While Charcoal was losing his way of life, his world, my people were gaining a new life, prospering. In a perfect world, treaty was supposed to benefit both the First Nations and the newcomers, but it didn't work that way."

"And then there's residential schools. A lot of my relatives have a lot of anger, and some of them have forgiveness. I don't hate white people, but this is what really happened in our past. Treaty didn't work the way it was supposed to work."

"Yes, and because I have benefited from treaty, I have a responsibility to treaty."

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