Circa, 1910 boreal area of central Saskatchewan.
Two young explorers are travelling in a canoe through a river system and are seeking adventure. They had been travelling for many weeks and have not run into any hostile Indians as they expected. In fact the trip had been getting quite boring and predictable.
Several hours into their trip, they noticed a small camp site with some activity. The boys slowly paddle to the shore and sneak towards the camp. They see a young lady going to the landing with what appeared to be a birch bark basket, likely to haul water.
The young travelers whisper to themselves and one asks the other, “What should we do?” The other youngster grins and nods his head as his eyes examine the young native women scooping up water.
Circa, 2000 boreal area of central Saskatchewan.
Kristina trots along the road on her way home from school. She is 16 years of age and is ready to enjoy the summer, it was the last day of school, and she couldn’t wait to have some fun.
She wonders how much fun she could actually have since she lives in such a small town. A northern community doesn’t exactly have all the modern accessories a southern city has, so she would have to be content. As she ponders her sad life, she crosses the road nonchalantly, when suddenly, an old truck turns toward her and sideswipes her. She goes flying off the road and lands on her side, banging her head on the ground.
Next thing she knows, she is lying in a hospital bed and can’t remember anything. “Awinanu, kakipumihchiket?” she asks.
“Excuse me?” said the doctor, “I’m afraid I don’t understand Cree.” he apologizes.
“Neither do I,” said Kristina groggily,” I just asked who was driving, do you know?”
The doctor shakes his head,” I could’ve sworn you just spoke Cree to me, but to answer your question, we don’t know who it was, however from what I’ve heard the truck that hit you had been speeding and swerving, so there’s a good chance it may have been a drunk driver.” explains the doctor, ” How are you feeling? You took quite a bump.”
“My head is killing me, did I break anything?”
“I don’t think so, but we have to keep you in for a while, we need to run some tests to make sure you’ll be alright.”
“Fine, I feel a little woozy, but I think I’ll be okay.”
A few days later, Kristina gets out of the hospital and goes home to a pair of worried parents. “How are you feeling baby? Can I get you something?” asks her mother gently.
“No thanks, I think I’ll just go to bed, my head still hurts a little.”
“Okay, you go on to bed, and in the morning, I’ll cook you a giant breakfast.”
“Thanks mom, good night” “Good night baby! Are you sure you don’t need anything?”
“No I’ll be fine, good night.” Kristina crawls into bed and falls asleep right away. On the window sill, a factory made dream catcher slightly twirls and gently drops on the floor. Kristina stirs, but goes right back to sleep.
In a dream, Kristina is holding a birch bark basket, standing at the landing of a beautiful river, much like the one close to her school but with no roads or houses on the side. She is wearing a buck skin dress and none of her usual make-up. She stares at the river in awe because it is so clear and sparkling; she wonders who might have cleaned up the usually dirty and murky river. She dips her basket in to gather up some water, and takes a sip. At the corner of her eye, she sees a couple of pale men staring at her from the shoreline of the river. The men are in a canoe loaded with supplies covered in a blanket. She gets ready to run, but instead, her curiosity takes over. One of the young men uncovers the supplies to reveal a shiny satin blue dress. Kristina’s eyes widen in delight. She has heard of white men offering gifts to her people, but she never thought it would happen to her. What she didn’t hear, was that the white men always wanted something in return. As she reached out for the dress, the young man grabs her and covers her mouth. Kristina kicks and screams in shear horror and confusion.
Suddenly, Kristina wakes up in a cold sweat with tears coming down her eyes. She had such a bad dream she found herself sobbing. Kristina did not have any misgivings for non-native people, and found them quite polite and respectful when she talked to them. However, the feeling she was feeling now was not that of respect or admiration, but of fear and distrust. She ponders her feelings for awhile, and goes back to sleep after concluding her paranoia about non-native people was silly.
The next day, Kristina wanders around the community wondering what to do with her time. She runs into one of her old friends: Andrew.
Andrew is a tall brainy type of person who is also deeply into Indian politics and political correctness. “Hello! Kristina, how’s the hit and run victim doing?” he asks.
“Quite well Mr. North American Aboriginal, how are you?” Kristina responds.
“Cut that out, you know I don’t like the racially insensitive word, ‘Indian,’ I prefer the correct term. Not the term govern to us by Euro-Canadians who ripped huge amounts of land out from under our feet, and leaving us with specks of dirt…”
“Okay, okay, I get the picture, I just asked how you were doing, I didn’t want a lecture on Indian, I mean ‘Native’ studies.” Kristina says, rolling up her eyes.
“I’m sorry Kristina, but I just get so mad when I think of the past dealings with the Canadian government. I only wish it was me who negotiated the treaties for the First people.” Andrew apologized, “In fact, I’m on my way to the band office to give them advice on how to deal with Indian Affairs, want to join me?”
“No thanks, I’m sure you’ll have enough to say for the both of us.” Kristina says as she walks away.
It wasn’t that long after she met with Andrew that Kristina ran into an old medicine man who everybody avoids. She was no different; she decided to walk around him to avoid him. Usually it is an easy task because the shaman usually pays her no attention. However, this time, the medicine man looks up at Kristina and stares at her as if fearful of something, he yells out “Blue dress is trying to talk to you, listen to her”
Kristina freaks out and wonders what the old man could be talking about. “Alright!” Kristina said, “I’ll listen to her.” she adds as she hurriedly walks away as fast as she could. It was such a surprise that the old man talked to her that she didn’t even think about what he meant.
Kristina strolls along and remains confused about the recent events that have happened. What did the dream mean? What was the old man talking about? She thought of going to Andrew for some answers but she wasn’t willing to put herself into his crazy world. He gets too damn political and would probably go on and on about the treaties and how our ancestors were screwed. No, she didn’t want to go through that. Then she had an idea, she would ask her grandma. Yeah! Granny seems to know everything. Upon her decision, she realized that she was near the river where she saw herself in her dream.
Her feelings borders on surreal. She couldn’t describe what she felt but she felt some type of connection with the river. She’s been there many times, but she’s never felt this way before. She decides to check out the shoreline and tries to put herself in her dream. She carefully walks along the shoreline, and then at the corner of her eye, she sees a hazy figure. Kristina’s heart beats a mile a minute as she slowly looks up at the figure. There is was, it was a young woman wearing a blue dress. Her face looks pleasant, as she was smiling. The dress looks wrinkly and frumpy but the girl seems pleased with it. “Hi!” Kristina says, “What’s your name?” she asks.
The girl just smiles, but her smile slowly turns to a sad frown. She looks down and looks back up as her face distinctly becomes older before Kristina’s eyes. Kristina blinks her eyes and tries to focus. The girl then screams out “Wechihin! wechihin! nisaminik awa moniyaw!” as she begins to struggle with an unseen assailant.
“I don’t understand Cree!” Kristina screams, “What’s happening to you?”
“Wechihin! kawitha moschi kinawapumin!” the girl pleads as her face now seems to slowly rot.
Kristina goes running to the girl, and just before she gets to her, the girl disappears. “What, where are you?” Kristina says, “Where are you, what’s happening?” Kristina says.
The girl doesn’t reappear. Kristina can only guess what might have happened. She was very confused and frightened with what just happened to her. What did she just see? She decides to follow her first instinct, ask somebody who might know: her grandma.
Kristina sat down on her grandma’s couch as she humms along an old country tune, and wonders how to start her request off. She would occasionally look to her grandma to see if she was suspicious of anything. “So kohkom, how have you been?”
“Namwac nanitow, kithamaka?” her grandma asks.
“I’ve been good,” Kristina responds, “I’ve never been better” she adds.
“I can tell,” her grandma said,” you usually don’t even respond to Cree words.”
“What Cree words?” Kristina said.
“Hmmm! What did you come to see me for?”
“Can’t I visit my own grandma once in awhile?”
“I guess so, since I haven’t seen you in over a month.”
“Okay, I won’t lie to you kohkom, I am really freaked out. I’ve been having dreams of an Indian girl wearing a blue dress, and I’m her; I can feel what she is going through. I might be possessed by her spirit and nobody is going to understand. I need your help.”
“God gives help when it is needed, but not when it has to do with stupid Indian beliefs. When are you and your generation going to understand, there is no spiritual things happening. Only shameful Indians believe that stuff. Jesus will help us; he is the savior, not some spiritual Indian medicine. We were freed from that superstition. We only need God now.”
“Please kohkom, this is different, I feel horrible beings having their way with something they shouldn’t, and I want to stop them.” Kristina pleads.
“You know that spiritual stuff Indians mess with nowadays, that’s bad medicine. The Bible released us from that Evil stupidity; I don’t know why you youngsters listen to it.”
“Kohkom, I don’t care about that stuff, I just want to understand what’s happening to me.”
“I’m not sure, but whatever it is, it’s probably no good. I want you out of here. I don’t want some Indian spiritual atheist in this house. Now get out!” her grandma said, “And by the way, I hope God forgives you for your sins.”
“But I haven’t sinned, I think. I need your help to find out what’s happening to me. A girl from the past is haunting me. I think she needs my help with something but I don’t know what.” Kristina explains.
“A girl from the past?” her grandma said, as she squints her eyes.
“Yes, I don’t know why, but she’s been in my head lately and I think she’s trying to tell me something.” At that moment, Kristina remembers what the Medicine man said to her. Something about listening to Blue Dress, could that be her name? “Kohkom, did you ever hear the name ‘blue dress?'”
Her grandmother turns toward her, “Blue Dress?” her grandma says somberly, “There is an old story about a spirit called Blue Dress, but I haven’t heard it in a long time. Who told you about it?”
“Nobody, I just remember the old Medicine man mention the name, and told me to listen to Blue Dress. I don’t know what he meant, but in my dream, the Indian girl I see is wearing a blue dress.” Kristina grits her teeth as she anticipates an outburst from her grandma.
“Hmmm! The old Medicine man eh? John was always one to scare children, but what’s he trying to do now? Actually offer spiritual help? Ha! The idiot wouldn’t know a peace pipe if it was stuck up his behind.” her grandma crowed, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell the whole story about Blue Dress and you can draw your own conclusions, okay?”
“Okay, tell me.”
Her grandmother starts off thoughtfully and with surprising care:
Blue Dress was a young lady who everybody thought was the most beautiful girl in the world, and it was felt that she belonged someplace better. She was kind, pretty, and got along with anybody, it didn’t matter who. Her problem was that she was a very curious girl; she always had to know what was going on or how things worked. One day, a pair of white explorers came by the community in their canoe. Blue Dress had been down by the river at the time to haul water for her mother. That was the last time Blue Dress was ever seen. It was later decided that she joined the explorers on their journey. Because of her extreme tendency to satisfy her curiosity, nobody argued otherwise. It was just accepted as true. The part about the Blue Dress spirit sightings were made up by Indians who wouldn’t accept the real story and instead, came up with their own to express their anger. More than likely, it was a ploy to hold on to dumb Indian beliefs, and to reject Jesus Christ as our savior.
Kristina questions the validity of the story. Why was the girls’ name ‘Blue Dress’ when there was no blue Indian dresses at the time she was around, and why do her dreams contradict the story, especially about Blue Dress joining the explorers. The story makes it sound like Blue Dress lives happily ever after, but in her dream, the explorers are doing something inappropriate to her, like what seems like raping her. What did happen to Blue Dress? If she didn’t go back home, then where did she go? Kristina asks these questions to her grandmother.
“It’s only a story Kristina!” her grandmother asserts, “The dreams you’re having are probably nothing but fantasies brought on by raging hormones.”
“What do you mean, raging hormones?” asks an even more confused Kristina.
“Never mind, but it is only dreams, they don’t mean anything. I’m sure you’ll be just fine, just don’t go to that medicine man. He’ll really mix things up for you.”
“Okay, thanks for your help.” Kristina says, “even if you didn’t help me.” she whispers.
That night, Kristina was up in her room browsing the Internet. She decides she would do some research on her own, research on past explorations in Canada. She found the usual stuff about John Cabot and Samuel Hearne, but nothing on two young men going on their own. Obviously there would be little hope in finding records of independent travels made by early Canadians, but she wants to find some type of link. After many hours of searching, Kristina gave up and went to bed. She would have to figure out something tomorrow.
In her dream, Kristina again finds herself at the river. This time however, she is herself. She walks along the river and hears some commotion further along. She slowly creeps up to see what’s happening. At the distance, she sees a young man struggling with a young lady on the grassy shore of the river. She starts toward them until she sees another young man looking down at them. She quickly ducks down to avoid being seen and watches them. She should help her, she thinks to herself, and then realizes that what she is seeing happened in the past and cannot do anything about it. She stands up and walks over to them. Not fearing their detection, she goes right up to the young man watching and looks down at the struggle. She feels a knot in her stomach as she realizes the young lady has stopped struggling and is being raped. The young man gets off her and tells his partner that it’s his turn. The other man gets down and notices the girl is lying very still with her eyes closed, “What’s wrong with her William?” he cries, “She’s not moving at all.”
William gets on one knee to check her out, “Oh my God!” he says, “I think she’s dead, I think I killed her.”
“Why did you squeeze her neck so hard? You should have been more careful.”
“I thought she stopped struggling because she liked it,” William reasons, and then realizes, “My God! I just had sex with a corpse; I’m going to burn in Hell!”
“Holy Shit! What do we do? The Indians are going to kill us if they find out.”
“Wait a minute, they don’t know we’re here, we’ll just leave her here and bugger off, they’ll never know it was us.”
“We can’t just leave her here; we have to bury her or something.”
The boys fetch their shovel and quickly pick a spot to bury her. After they finish, they scurry off into the unknown, never having to pay for their crimes, and leaving a disgruntled spirit to lament her own death as she watches the boys paddle down the river.
Kristina looks tenderly at the spirit of Blue Dress and starts to cry. She knew nobody else knew what really happened. She only wishes she could help in some way, “Please tell me how I can help you?” she pleads, and as she says this, Blue Dress quickly turns and looks at her.
That morning, Kristina slowly gets up and examines her surroundings. She gets dressed up and goes downstairs to join her parents for breakfast. “Good morning!” her mother says cheerfully, “how did you sleep? Do you feel okay?”
“I feel fine mom,” Kristina says,” how are you feeling?”
“Great! Ah, why are dressed like that?” her mom says as she looks at Kristina’s blue dress, “Are you going out to a party?”
“Party?” Kristina asks, “Yes, I am going to a party.” she says, reassuringly.
“Well that’s nice, whose party is it?”
“A friend’s, you wouldn’t know her.”
“Okay then, finish eating your food before you go, okay?”
“Alright mom.” It isn’t long before Kristina is out the door and off to her pretend party. She runs into her old pal, Andrew. “Hello Andrew, how are you this morning?”
“Just fine Kristina,” Andrew responds, as he stands there waiting,” well, what happened to your snappy greetings, I was looking forward to some sarcasm today, and I thought you might oblige.” he continues.
“I am sorry Andrew, how was the band office conciliation?”
Andrew curiously looks down at Kristina’s dress, then dismisses it “Not too well,” Andrew said, “they told me that they didn’t need my opinion until I was of voting age. Can you believe that rubbish? I guess they want to remain ignorant to real First Nations issues, I’m willing to bet that they don’t even know the least bit of history of our ancestors.”
“Exactly,” Kristina responds, “I am willing to bet that they can’t even speak our language or mend a birch bark canoe.”
“Well neither do I, but that’s not what I’m talking about, “Andrew says, “I was talking about the use of renewable natural resources. Don’t you know we have berries, forests, and animals that can be harvested to improve the financial situation of our community?”
“Financial situation? I thought you were talking about Native tradition and its importance to future generations.” Kristina says, “And do you mean to tell me that you can’t even speak Cree? Or mend a birch bark canoe? I thought you were a real First Nations person, but your just an over ambitious hypocrite who thinks the world of himself just because he has an education!”
“Now, now, calm down Kristina, no need to get excited.” Andrew assures, “I just feel that Indian Affairs is controlling us too much and I want it to stop that’s all.” Andrew adds, but then ponders Kristina’s words for awhile, “Speak Cree and mend canoes? What the hell are you talking about?” Asks Andrew, “Since when do you know how to do that?”
“I don’t,” Kristina says, “I just thought that’s what you meant. I really have get going, see ya later.” says Kristina as she hurriedly walks away.
Andrew stands there scratching his head, “Wow! Come to think of it, I do feel like a hypocrite.”
Kristina is strolling along the road when suddenly a car pulls up beside her, “Do you know where the nearest gas station is?” a nasal voice said, “I’m running a little low on gas.”
Kristina bends down to see who it is and notices that it is a non-native man wearing a baseball cap, “No! Get away from me!” Kristina screams,” Help! Help! There’s a white man trying to attack me.” she screams again, as she attracts the attention of two Native teenagers hanging out at a playground.
The two guys go running up to Kristina and ask her what’s wrong and she tells them: “That white man was trying to pick me up.”
The boys go sprinting up to the car and start yelling at the man, “Get the Hell out of here you desperate sicko.” said one of them. “And leave our girls along you white pervert.” said the other.
“But I didn’t do anything, I don’t know what she’s talking about.” the man says.
Kristina, in her tears, realizes what just happened, “Wait a minute! I didn’t mean it, I don’t know what came over me, leave that man alone.”
The boys look at Kristina, one of them says, “What! Leave him alone? You just said he tried to attack you.”
“I’m sorry, it was a mistake, he didn’t do anything.” Kristina explains.
“I’m very sorry sir; the bitch is just crazy I guess.” The boys go back to the playground and the man drives away without saying a word.
Kristina arrives at the river and sits down to try and get her head straight. She views the river much differently now and wonders if she’ll ever look at it the same way again. As she is sitting on the grass, a shadow casts over her and its John the medicine man that everybody avoids. Kristina stands up “What do you want?” she demands.
“You know, an old white man used to come to this community,” John started, “It was during the fifties before we could even drink in a bar.” he continues, “He used to offer us rides in his truck, take us to town when we needed it or drop us off at a trap line if there was a road. What I used to like was when he would go to the bar for us and pick up some liqueur. Ha-Ha! We used to have such a great time in those days. He was quite the character. Then one day, while we were gathered for a feast, he got up and told us how sorry he was for what he’d done and how he would never forgive himself. He didn’t say what it was, just that he was sorry. His face was filled with sorrow and I could tell he really was sorry. After he left, many of the people dismissed what he had to say because of his generosity, but I knew what he meant. He was apologizing for something he should never be forgiven for.” John continues, “Blue Dress was my mothers younger sister, and they would wander around the river side whenever they had time to spare. Blue Dress was not her real name; her real name was Sunrise because she was born on the first morning of summer. Sunrise was thought to have left with a pair of explorers, but my mother knew otherwise. However, nobody would listen to her. Everybody kept telling her to forget about it and accept the fact that she was out seeing the world she wanted to see. Because nobody would listen to her, she would tell me the story, which is why I knew what the old man was talking about. Up until that time, even I disregarded my mother’s stories as stubborn and foolish. My mother would tell me over and over again, ‘never accept anything from the white man’. She didn’t trust them or believe the so-called ‘Good News’ they carried with them. She continued to practice Native Spirituality and passed it along to me. Today, I am greatly out numbered by the ‘assimilated people.’ Nobody can help you Kristina, only I can.”
Kristina stands there wondering what to say, or even think. Could this be the only person who can help her? Andrew’s help is out of the question, he’d probably lecture her on being a believer of the supernatural, unless it was financially beneficial. Kohkom would kill her if I mentioned another spirit, and my parents are only my parents. So I guess that leaves her with one choice: “How can you help us?”
John leads Kristina to his place. It is an old cabin by the river, not too far away is what looks like a sweat lodge. “We’re going to go in that!” Kristina asks, “My Kohkom would kill me if she heard about it. She thinks all Native religion practices are evil and devilish, I can’t go in there.”
“This was the first church of our people.” John responds, “Not the over-sized monstrosities that Christian followers go to. In the sweat lodge, there is no money involved, and no blood sacrifice of a sacred person.”
“Of course not, we’re much better then that, right?”
“No! It is not about being better, it is about following what truly belongs to you and not to another race of people who lack respect for you.” retorts John, “I have no ill feelings toward the intentions of their religion, the intentions are good and the advice is priceless. However, the people who practice it are hypocrites, who, more often than not, break the rules of their own religion. It is very shameful what they do, to themselves, and to the Great Spirit.”
“Don’t you mean God?” Kristina says.
“They are one and the same, they are just named differently.” explains John. That afternoon, John and Kristina sit at the appropriate places in the lodge as they close their eyes and ask for guidance. In Kristina’s mind, there are pieces of the past flashing before her eyes. She sees Sunrise standing beside the river. She turns toward her, and starts to slowly float toward her. Kristina’s stands there as she weeps for the spirit coming to her, she holds out her arms to embrace her. Suddenly, Sunrise stops at about ten feet from Kristina and just looks at her. She appears to lift her head and arms in triumph, when all of a sudden; she flies right into Kristina and knocks her down.
Kristina had run out of the sweat lodge and crumples on the grass. John comes after her and places a blanket over her. “Are you okay?” John asks, “What happened?”
“I don’t know.” answers Kristina,” I felt a cold breeze go over me during my vision.”
“Your vision?” Says John, “What did you see?”
“I saw Sunrise. She seemed happy about something. Like she was able finally to do something, but I don’t know what.”
“What did she say?” “Nothing, her face said it all; she was happy about something.”
The next day, Kristina set out for the river again. John was standing there looking at the water flowing. He was holding a roll of a newspaper. “What’s that you’re holding?”
“A newspaper,” says John,” it’s got some interesting news, you want to hear it?”
“What does it say?” “It says, ‘ A one hundred and fifteen year old man died yesterday'”
“Wow, that old huh? That is interesting news.”
“That’s not the interesting part.” “What do you mean?” “He left a personal note in his will that said ‘A man like me doesn’t deserve to live so long, when I finally do pass on, it will be with a heavy heart. I only hope I will be forgiven for the terrible thing I’ve done to an innocent life who only wanted to wear a blue dress.’ The family doesn’t know what to make of the note, but they had it printed because he wanted it to be.”
“Could it be the man who did it?”
“Could be, it says he passed on in the afternoon yesterday. I think about the time we were in the sweat lodge.” John looks down on Kristina.” I think she was finally released to the next world. Where she could start at the place she left off in the circle.”
Sunrise runs through the wide, open grassy meadow, feeling the warm breeze over her face and the beauty of the landscape pleasing her eyes. She feels she may have been sleeping for too long, but now the death of the one who stole innocence, beauty, and pride from her is gone. Now nobody and nothing can prevent her from moving forward.