Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Last Day of Aboriginal Storytelling Month

Last night I'm sitting on the bouncy ball in my newly tidied citrus coloured office when my oldest daughter bounds in, full of life and love and talk, talk, talk about life and love. I reach for my mukluks which I've been wanting to fix all year, but who can ever find a needle until I visited the dollar store yesterday and picked up a package of fifty for a dollar. Who knew? So I hold the beaver fur mukluk, thread a needle, and listen, listen, listen to Victoria hanging hearts in the air with her words, like apples floating against the lime, orange, and lemon walls. Oh, these needles aren't strong enough. I bend one trying to pierce the leather, but then I try a thicker one, send Victoria upstairs for a pliers, and pretty soon, I'm mending my Black Lake mukluks, a gift from the band office after I conducted a communication workshop years and years ago. Before bed I am wearing the mended boot around the house. Michael is laughing at my one-boot parade, but it's so comfy, I say, I don't want to take it off. I lay it out beside it's mate with my clothes for the morning.

I wake an hour later than I'd wanted to, but time enough to get ready, write less than one page of morning pages, and push out the door at 8:42. I take one picture of my mukluks in the yard, then one going down the lane, and my camera shuts down. Dead battery. No! I've been wanting these pictures all winter, and what if it's too warm and melting for the rest of the week and I can't wear them again. I turn around and jog up the hill, trip down to my office to find the spare battery, pant up the stairs, then out the front of the house, changing the battery as I go. I turn the camera on half way down the lane. It powers down. Dead battery.

Lesley and Michelle, artist and journalist, are supporting me and my students today with our First Nations and Metis Leadership Literacy projects. Kids are listening to their interviews using giant green headphones. Some are transcribing. Some are borrowing audio equipment and cameras to conduct their interviews. Some are writing their articles. Some Q & A, some story style. We've forgotten to have tobacco on hand for an elder, so Rod, my Vice Principal, makes a tobacco run. Rush. Rush. Rush. But it's a good day, and I'm wearing my mukluks and the kids really like them, ask me where I got them.

All I can think is, I can't wait to get home, I want to be home, I need to go home. I do some checklist writing, follow up on the project, ready for Friday when Michelle will visit again. I sit down at my computer; it's 4:10 and something twigs. I think. What day is it? The 29th. A seizure of panic stops my breath. Is it Wednesday? Is the 29th a Wednesday? Was there something... oh no. I look at my calendar on the computer. I'm supposed to be at the library. Right now! To introduce Jim for the library's Aboriginal Storytelling Month event. No. I jump up. Grab my jacket. Feel my arm for my keys and start jogging. I'm outside and still jogging. What a bone head. No. No. No. It's beautiful out, melting just slightly, my mukluk's pounding the snowied pavement.

I swing the library door open, walk in, and there sits Jim Peigan in a comfy, classy living room black chair, with an empty one beside him, waiting for me. There are three people sitting in the audience, and I'm really, really late. Hey, my cousin Angela's in the front row. Jim is speaking. I sit down beside Ange, "Sorry I'm late," I stage whisper. Jim finishes his story, but now I see it's not a story, but they were just visiting. We visit a bit more, and then Jim says, "We were waiting for you."

I stand up. Tell my late story. Say sorry a few more times, then walk to the front to join Jim. "I'm really happy to introduce Jim Peigan to everyone here. When Barb asked me if I knew anyone who might tell stories here at the library, I immediately thought of Jim. I know Jim from the Outreach and he is always telling stories. Right Angela." I look at my cousin in the front row who nods. "And sometimes we don't know if the stories are real or not." Angela nods some more. "I'm so happy that Jim is here today. His stories always put a smile on my face. Thanks, Jim, for being here today."

Jim tells us how stories were only told in the winter. People wouldn't work if they were listening to stories, so winter was for storytelling. When he was a boy, they'd listen to story tellers, some coming from a long way, travelling around. Jim remembers one man in particular, waiting for his visits.

Jim tells us some history in the 1700s there were many Blackfoots, and when the Anishanabi came from Ontario, (Jim is Anishanabi, Saulteaux) they pushed the Blackfoots west, the Cree and Dene North. The Anishanabi had horses and guns, so they had the power.

He tells of a gathering in Qu'Appelle when Sitting Bull made a speech to Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, Anishinabi, Cree, Blackfoot, that they should band together to stop the invasion. The major decisions they faced, to fight, to move, to survive. The Blackfoot left, leaving a great gap in a potential army. Still, they could have fought back, but that was a story never written.

Jim is an educator, and he is teaching us a little before Jim, the storyteller, comes out in full force. His face doesn't change, much, still neutral, not a big smile, not a frown, just telling some facts, beginning a story. He paints word pictures, like an artist working with oil, laying layers upon layers, repeating key phraes, often four times, and soon the world of Nanabush is taking over the empty space between rows of books. Nanabush is hungry and he sees the ducks, but not just ducks, pin tails, mallards, spoon bills, and a big white one, bigger than the rest, and Nanabush sings to the ducks and finally starts to talk up the white one, telling him of his beauty. And so Jim fills the library with ducks dancing, eyes closed, not peeking inside a lodge. And things don't go so well for the ducks, but then they don't go so well for Nanabush, as he falls asleep, leaving his bum on guard to watch that fox in the bushes who wants to steal the roasting duck.

By now, Jim has us just like the ducks, our eyes closed to reality, our imaginations dancing in the lodge he made with his words. And when I see Nanabush laying on his side, exhausted, with his bum left to guard the roasting ducks, I start to giggle. I've never seen a bum given such responsibility. And then the bum sees the fox approaching, so he calls out to Nanabush, which makes the fox run away so Nanabush doesn't see it. Nanabush gets angry with his bum and tells him to not wake him for no reason. I am laughing, in between Jim's words, holding my mouth, leaning over, then sitting back up, trying to listen. But then the bum talks again and I burst. And again and again and again until my eyes are watering and I'm almost crying.

One story leads into another until Jim stops and the sound of clapping is like rain drops, washing down the stories from where they hang, all around us. I'm ready to thank Jim, but tears burn in my eyes. "Jim, I haven't laughed like that for a long, long time," I say, then pause to get my voice under control. "I've taken on some new responsibilities, and I've been just keeping all the balls in the air until today, when I let this one fall, and I just really, really needed to laugh." Tears are rolling down my cheeks. "Your words are healing for me today."

Jim is smiling, kindly. I'm not telling him anything he doesn't already know. He's a storyteller.

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: February 29th Pictures

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Day One Hundred and Eighteen: Are You Smarter than a Grade Four Kid?

We're walking into the All Nations Healing Hospital, Arwen and I, and she is carrying her toque and what looks like recipe cards with an elastic holding them together. "What's that?" I ask.

"Flash cards," she says. "I forgot them in my toque."

As we sign Arwen in, she is pulling the elastic, wiggling the elastic; finally, I pocket the elastic. We sit in the comfy chairs and my nine year old gives me the flashcards. "Here. You hold them like this so I can see the question and you can see the answers." She demonstrates.

"How long have First Nations Peoples inhabited North America?" Arwen reads. "A really long time," she answers herself.

"Thousands of years," I read from my side of the card.

"How did First Nation peoples come to live here? The Creator put them here."

"That's right."

"List at least five Aboriginal 'inventions' or contributions." She pauses and then begins to number her fingers. "Canoe, cough syrup, games..."

"What kind of games?"

"Lacrosse," she says.

"And darts," I add.

She's on finger number three, pulling on number four. "Stuff to make you feel better," she says, a question mark in her throat.

"Pain remedies," I say.

"Yes and ummmmmmmmm gum." She has her five.

I read silently. Canoe, kayak, snowshoes, cough syrup, cure for scruvy, chewing gum, snow goggles, lacrosse, petroleum jelly, harvesting wild rice and growing and harvesting corn and sunflowers, various pain remedies, tobaggan, dart games, and the expression etc. is typed at the end of thirteen. I give the card back to Arwen.

"List and be able to discuss the meaning of the thirteen Tipi Teachings," says Arwen. "I know this because you taught me, Mom." She wiggles in the chair, a smile on her face.

I grin, too. I'm not usually the mom who works on homework with her kids, in fact, I rarely do. Guess I'm a little proud to finally get the Mom thing right.

She gets her finger counters ready again and is able to list only nine. "I always miss good child rearing," she says.

"That's ironic," I say. Arwen giggles.

A woman and a baby has joined us.

"Spelling words?" she asks.

"No actually the tipi teachings," I say. She raisers her eyebrows and nods, approvingly. I wonder if she's white, but she's wearing moccasins. Funny how we classify people, I think, then turn to Arwen. "Here, you hold it, let me try."

I remember my classroom two years ago, when I had the tipi teachings posted around the walls, just below the ceiling. I start beside my desk and go around the room in my mind. "Happiness, love, faith, kinship, cleanliness, thankfulness," and then I pause. "I always get stuck here... well, then strength, good child rearing, humility, obedience, respect, and... I've missed two."

"You missed sharing and hope," says Arwen.

"Oh, I always forget sharing, and we both missed hope," I say. "You should memorize them in threes like Mommy. Four groups of three, with hope at the end. I hope I can remember the last tipi teaching. A person can always finish with hope. I hope you remember all thirteen tipi teachings."

Arwen ignores my puns and reads the next question. "Who were the 'first inhabitants' of what is now known as Saskatchewan? First Nations."

I nod. "Many different groups."

Another woman and her son, younger than Arwen, are now sitting next to us. A man, maybe just a bit older than me, is also waiting.

"Which First Nation peoples inhabited 'Saskatchewan' from the beginning of time?" Arwen continues. "Ummm... Dene, Cree, Saulteaux, Nakota, Lakota, Dakota," she says.

"You got them all. Do you know what group, Nakota, Lakota or Dakota, are from Standing Buffalo?" I say.

"No," Arwen says. Her eyes are looking past me, to the nursing station. She looks worried.

"Dakota," I say. "I finally got that clear in my head this year."

"Is it true or false that when the newcomers (Europeans) first arrived, First Nation people taught them many skills, such as how to build shelters, find food, and construct canoes." She pauses. "True."

"True," I say.

"What method (way) do First Nation Peoples pass down their stories from one generation to the next?" Her eyes look up and to the left. "Oral thing-a-ma-jig?"

"Orally... known as the oral tradition," I read.

"Another name for North America is...? Turtle Island." Arwen is smiling.

I wonder if she likes the image of Turtle Island, or what is it that's making her smile, but I don't ask. She gathers the cards, wraps them up in the elastic and we continue waiting.

Day One Hundred and Eightteen: February 28th Pictures

Monday, February 27, 2012

Day One Hundred and Seventeen: Six Post Card Stories

The sky pink lake waves, ripples welcome in the morning when I glance behind, happy to look, but sad to keep moving, no pillar of salt in my moment of weakness, I face a new day leaving the winter break at my back.

First sun tap, tap, taps through my parka shoulder, at least three times before I realize everything has changed as God's eye ball peeks over the snowy hills. I snap to remember. I turn to forget. I write to see.

The blue is even bluer with that ball of fire climbing the hills at my back, hitting the hills ahead, behind the giant tipi, white lights on the governance centre match the white snow in the hills, or is the snow blue too.

My hikers on the gravel snow crunch, crunch, crunch and I'm focused on the road ahead, but a glint to my right, draws my eye, blows me a kiss, I turn to see sunshine circles, the pow wow arbour a circle, too.

How can such subtle colours -- brown, beige, cream, white, grey, blue -- please and startle the morning awake with just one smooch of sunshine?

Is anyone home inside that faux fur lined cave, frost forming like lashes, while four lines overhead sing back and forth -- voices or electricity -- under the blue and white fish scale sky.

Day One Hundred and Seventeen: February 27th Pictures