Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Music in Their Voices


Elder Alma Poitras is waiting for me at the Squire, sitting in the booth, looking at the menu. She smiles as I come in. "Sorry I'm late," I say.

"I just got here, too," she says.

When I wrote "As Long as the Grass Grows: A Treaty Song from Saskatchewan" I used three Cree words: Miyowicehtowin, Pimacihowin, and Witaskewin. I had written into my journal beside the song draft, "Call Alma. Bring tobacco and ask her how to pronounce the words." I wrote the song in January and now it's June.

I give Elder Alma the tobacco pouch and tell her that I always appreciate her wisdom and any teachings she can share with me.

We order breakfast and Alma and I visit about our families, Alma's recent school trip to Cypress Hills, and our beautiful valley. A little later, Dalma, Alma's sister, joins us. The sisters tease each other and there is a lot of giggling and laughing, and they often speak to each other in Cree. I wish my sister, Andrea was with us.

After we have finished our eggs and toast, I pull out a copy of the song and read it out loud. The ladies listen, nodding their heads. Then, I come to the last verse with the three Cree words.

The teaching begins.

The ladies explain in detail how the Treaties are not only for "us" as humans, but also the animals, medicines, and plants, all living elements, all my relations are included in the concept of Miyowicehtowin in a caring relationship, giving back good things for the future, to even make sacrifices as we are "getting along with others".

The conversation between the sisters is animated as they discuss Pimacihowin. "Pi-ma means going about," says Alma. "Going about, living, at that time, there were no boundaries. Going from place to place; it must have been when they followed the buffalo. They weren't sedentary people. They made a living from season to season, moving to different areas."

"So the spirit of that today, is that we should all be able to make a living as we are going about, in our different ways," I say.

Dalma uses the image of birds flying here and there for the concept of Pimacihowin.

Soon we are talking about Witaskewin -- coming together on the land, being one with the land. My heart is filling up with so much teaching going on. I'm glad I am recording on my phone.

"There is always a story behind it," says Dalma.

Alma and Dalma repeat the three words over and over into my recorder. They speak in unison.

I repeate back, but I am having trouble saying the words.

We are now finished our breakfast.

"Let's go outside and I'll sing the song for you," I say.

These lovely sisters sit on the tailgate of my truck and I sing. The wind is blowing, trucks and cars are driving by on the highway, someone is weed whacking in the yard across the parking lot. The women nod as the verses go by and they join in on the chorus, "As long as the grass grows, as long as the sun shines, as long as the river flows, through this heart of mine..."

I get to the final verse which uses the three Cree words and we stop, mid-song, and begin workshopping the words. Sitting on the tailgate, singing, we laugh a lot, call ourselves Rock Stars.
When I go back to school on Monday, I play the song in my guitar class during our circle time. I have written the words phonetically onto the white board. All week long I practice singing the last verse. On Saturday Elder Alma, Dalma and I plan to meet and practice singing again. They also promised to correct my pronunciation again, once my confidence is up.
When I listen back to the recordings, I smile every time I say, "We should write more songs together."
And the sisters say in unison, "Sure," with such music in their voices.