Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Empty, Lonely Land

I remember coming home from school. I can hear the tractor in the field. Dad comes in for supper, maybe, and then he's digging trenches in the garden to water the long rows, but maybe he's forgotten the hose is on, because he's just realized he'd better call up one of his friends in the Kenosee Hills to see if the Saskatoons are ready, and off he goes.
My dad is a man of the land. In his day he fished from a canoe; knew every gully and slough in the Souris Valley; walked longer and harder than any of his young hunting buddies, into the bush or in the mountains, bringing home elk or moose, regularly. We ate duck, prairie chicken, jack fish, venison.
He and Mom have just moved to Fort Qu'Appelle from the farm at Macoun. We are thankful that our oldest daughter, Victoria and her husband, Tyler, are on the farm, not to mention our second girl, Moira, who's been hanging out there, too, working in Estevan this past year.
I'm enjoying short, regular visits with Mom and Dad. I knock on the door, with the Grandpa Pete knock, "shave and a hair cut, two bits" and then walk right in. I usually turn into a teenager, flop on the couch, say something cheeky, then maybe go to the fridge and find something to eat. If my brother is there, he's turned 11 again, watching baseball on their satellite, and he and I have a few verbal punches, just for old times sake, and then I drive away, ready to be an adult again.
 Not too long ago, Dad was reading out of  the big red book I grew up with, Our Prairie Heritage: Cambria from 1902 to 1977. We also had Settlers of the Hills Lake Alma where Grandma Bailey grew up.
Dad showed me where his three quarters lay on the land. He told me stories about neighbours and we smiled and laughed.
I took the book, and opened to the introduction. "For the younger generation who have never known anything but this affluent society, our hope is that they will find an appreciation for the privations, the suffering, the hardships and frustrations of the pioneers who had courage, fortitude and the faith that God would sustain them, to come to this 'empty', lonely land and give it life."
Like any good mythology, there is truth in this passage. By the time my grandparents and great grandparents came to Treaty four territory, the land had been cleared, as James Daschuk reveals in his 2013 book, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life which Mom bought for Tyler last Christmas after hearing Daschuk speak at the Festival of Words. My ancestors did work hard as pioneers. We have the stories to prove it.
I imagine the quote also got it right, that the land was lonely, mourning the loss of the buffalo and the peoples of the plains.
I do read this section aloud, but I don't take the opportunity to scold Mom and Dad, white on white, about our government's oppression and acts of genocide against the Indigenous peoples, or how we have been benefitting from this great Clearing of the Plains, for over one hundred years now.
Mom and Dad don't need me to tell them. They are doing their own self-educating. They both read. They both watch and listen. They are making connections from what they learn to what they already knew.
And Mom told me that when my 76 year old Dad was watching the TRC Report news coverage last December, he sat in his rocker and wept.
"I never really knew," he told me later.
This re-education is part of our Treaty story.



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