The sun is hot on my back, a hand pushing me along. I turn around and take a picture into the blinding. The blue in the sky reminds me why blue is my favorite colour; just like every time I see a horse my spirit whinnies. It’s just perfect.
I’m a little late as I walk through the back door of the school. I change in a back washroom, and walking past the library, my backpack still attached, I get a call to the office. Jeanne Corrigal, a filmmaker from Waskesiu, meets me at the office. She has mid-length curly hair, an engaging smile and eyes full of sunshine, northern lakes, woodlands. We walk and talk to the library, making plans for our student screening of her film Jim Settee: The Way Home.
I watch the film twice with my students. The first time through, we see the forty-eight minute Director’s Cut. Jim Settee was an elder, tracker, leader, friend. He was a truth speaker, kindness teacher, kinship keeper. Jim Settee went back to college at eighty years and at eighty-six became the oldest to be ordained an Anglican Minister.
The film unfolds with family and friends telling their stories of Jim. How he made everyone feel special. How he taught that we are all related. How he mentored people to act in kindness. How he knew everyone’s family trees: the Métis, the Cree, the Newcomers alike.
Footage of Jim Settee shows a still soul, becoming animated in a smile, then a laugh. Pictures are set amid family, Jim often holding a child, or pictures against water and trees.
Jeanne grew up with the legend of Jim Settee, and her father’s retelling of the lost boy. Jeanne’s father was also a tracker, and he told the story of searching for a boy in the woods for three days before they finally brought in Jim Settee. In the film, Jeanne recounts how elder Settee asked to be taken to the spot the boy was last seen. He stood there and got real quiet, for about three minutes, he just stood there, and then he took off across the muskeg, fast. He walked for two hours, six miles and then called for the boy. There is footage of Jim saying that the boy was almost right under his feet. Jeanne explains that the boy was so terrified he couldn’t move or even talk. Jim just sat down beside the boy, for about half an hour, until the boy found his way back, and then they got up and walked out of the woods.
Jeanne’s voice is quiet. She is gentle, a real listener. She shares touchstones she keeps in a matchbox, the matchbox given to her by Jim Settee. His grandchildren retell how he would throw matchboxes from the park fire tower, with little treasures he’d collected all winter long. They re-enact this in the film. Jeanne has filled hers: an agate cut in half, a paper snowflake, a green bouncy ball, a Métis sash. These are symbols, lessons she gained from Jim Settee, of the silence within, the uniqueness of each person, a green planet, and personal identity. She asks us what we would put in our matchbox.
I have many matchboxes, maybe too many, maybe too big. My china cabinet, my dresser, my office, my desk, my closet, full of treasures only I understand. But I like the idea of a matchbox, a small place to keep things that light the spirit. A strip of blue, a wooden horse, a stone, a stick, a verse. Pictures of my girls. The blank page is another match box, the words out on the muskeg, searching, calling into my fear, sitting with my quiet, bringing me home.