Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This Town Talks to Me

Near midnight, I am invisible behind my headlights after six hours driving west accross the prairie. There is one light on in Major, Saskatchewan. Rona and John take me in, make Earl Grey tea and send me to bed.

I wake too late to treaty walk the town, so I treaty drive, get out to take pictures, hop back in. It's fall. It's cloudy. Winter is on its way.

"This town has stories," I say in my opening remarks to Major School as they celebrate Saskatchewan Library Week. "Just look at your street signs. They're talking. If I could rent a house here I could write for a month, even longer, and I'd be so happy. This town reminds me of Macoun where I went to school. I feel like an artist at home in your town."

These young people, kindergarten to grade twelve, fit into one classroom. I tell stories of my own, about living in Northern Saskatchewan Black Lake, writing about Southern Saskatchewan home. They listen and smile in just the right places. I read from my novel, Voice of the Valley. I share my Treaty Walks blog.

"What an honour it is to be with you today," I say. "This is a tough year as you prepare to say goodbye to your school." I dedicate and sing two songs to this community in transition: one remembering my grandfathers who took different paths during the war, and a second which begins, "There's a tree on the prairie, alone under the sun. Branches waving, leaves a shaking, cause her roots won't let her run."

As I drive away, knowing Major for under twelve hours, I am in mourning. I've heard this story before. The grey sky and damp earth sympathizes with the collective wisdom: a community dies when it looses it's school.

As I drive away, there are two treaty narratives trailing behind me. The first narrative I know well. It's the settler narrative. My people came to this land (peacefully because of the treaties signed with the first people.) We set up house on the land. We farmed and raised families. We built communities.

The second narrative, the Indigenous narrative, I am still learning to hear. The people lived complex and sophistocated lives on this land. They welcomed newcomers. They made treaties to share the land. Then, most of the land was taken away. Their way of making a living, interrupted, and changed forever. And then the children were taken away. The Indigenous narrative knows a thing or two about loss.

As I drive away, I wonder if settler descendant loss might cultivate empathy and solidarity with those who have lost before us.




  1. Thank you for writing this. It is beautiful.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful recount of your day at Major. Many of us have fond memories of Major School and will visiting and working with its student and staff.

  3. That was a wonderful story about our small school and an exact replica of how we feel.

  4. Mavis, Donna and "gnatss" I have thought about your beautiful little school many times since visiting, especially as the new year began, and no beautiful little school to return to. Thank you, again, for the honour of sharing a part of your history and our shared history.