There has been a recent surge of fires near my hometown of La Ronge, SK. Looking at the map I shared on Facebook the other day looks scary. Many of the main concerns of those who shared my post, were of the cabins they have out in their traplines and of mushroom land. Traditional land is at risk and people are not taking it lightly. Thankfully, there has been no reports yet of any cabins burning down, that I have seen.
This current forest fire situation reminds of the evacuation of La Ronge and area, back in 2015. Fires were popping up all around our tri-communities of La Ronge, Air Ronge and Lac La Ronge Indian Reserves. First, they implemented a voluntary evacuation and later a mandatory evac. I was at home at the time when the RCMP came to my apartment and told us to get up and leave with what we had on. There was no time to grab anything like clothes or any other personal belongings. It was traumatic, but I was able to keep a sound mind.
I had written a post about the ordeal back in 2015, however, through revamping and revising my website, the article got lost in the shuffle. I was able to find the original article from July 2015, in my archives recently and here is the link if you want to read it (many old news links in the article). – https://firstnationstories.com/?page_id=4119
I had saved a fire map of June 9, 2015, and now we can compare the map from that time to the map I am sharing today, July 10, 2021.
If you look at the map from 2021, you will notice there are more fires, however, if you look at the map from 2015, the fires are much closer to La Ronge and my old home reserve of Morin Lake. Notice the fire is closer to Sikachu than Hall Lake (Morin Lake Reserve 217, is in the two blocks of pink to the west of La Ronge). A cousin of mine lost her house in the fire in Sikachu. She ended up getting a new house in Hall Lake, which is the same reserve, but a different community (just trying to be clear).
While we are at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would devastate many family’s to be evacuated and live in close quarters as we did during the evacuation of 2015. We must all salute the firefighters for putting their lives on the line to put the fires out. They are the real heroes that should to be looked up to.
While we have been separated to an extent because of the pandemic, an evacuation would make it more difficult to recover from the traumatic events that we have already experienced.
Here in our home community of La Ronge, SK, the news of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school was shocking. Many of us were saddened, others were outraged that the governments did not listen before. They, survivours, say they knew atrocities had happened, but nothing was done. I too, used to hear about possible missing children at residential schools growing up. I could not understand at the time what they meant. I do not remember any headlines about it on mainstream media, maybe it was not important enough for journalists to research the topic.
Now, there is not only news media, but social media, and web media as well. It gives us a better playing field. I would not say “level-playing” field because I do not see it as the case. I have read comments where Indigenous posts and pages had been removed and outright banned from social media.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission “has identified the names of, or information about, more than 4,100 children who died of disease or accident while attending a residential school” (trc.ca). Murray Sinclair “now believed the number was ‘well beyond 10,000’” (nytimes.com). This is a disturbing trend for Indigenous people in both Canada and United States. Many of the mainstream population do not even know about the residential schools because it has not been taught extensively, or at all, in many schools across both countries.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to set aside money for more searches (dailyhive.com). I anticipate my hometown of La Ronge to get funding for the searches. A local Indigenous Elder has stated that he believes that there are other bodies, other then the marked graves, at an old graveyard which was near a residential school in downtown La Ronge (1907 – 1947) (uregina.ca). I sincerely hope that La Ronge gets the funding for a search. It is important for our Tri-Community to try to find a sense of closure for the atrocities of the past.
I am personally fortunate that I have never attended residential school. I have many friends and family who have attended, and they told me stories that I found deplorable. Not being able to speak your own language or to practice tradition. It was a clear violation to the psyche of the children. Beating the “Indian” out of the children, literally, or at least trying to.
We are still here. I am fortunate to have gone to band run schools that encouraged, and even taught our beautiful language and culture. I cannot imagine what residential school students had to go through.
Our Tri-Community has made efforts to reconcile with the local band members and cancelled Canada Day and instead scraped the celebrations “in favour of National Indigenous Peoples Day” on June 21, 2021 (newsoptimist.ca). Many people gathered wearing masks and practiced social distancing, to talk about reconciliation and to remember those children that never made it home.
The searches have only just begun.
I would rather not discuss the burning of churches. I sincerely hope it does not happen in our Tri-Communities.
As a boy, I was fascinated by Northwest Coast Art, specifically totem poles. When I lived on 101 Reserve in La Ronge, there would be these shows depicting totem poles on some nature show I cannot remember. I am not sure if there were any totem poles on the old CBC show, The Beachcombers. Google is not helping either, but anyway I loved that show.
Haida art has so much amazing artwork. The Northwest Coast tribes must of has more time on their hands than my ancestors did, because many of the works looked time consuming to create and they used many different media, “wood, metal, horn, bone, leather and other objects” (https://spiritsofthewestcoast.com/collections/haida-art). Today, there are so many ways to view this type of art, many young people today take it for granted that they can just Google what they want to see. My family at 101 Reserve had National Geographic and an encyclopedia series called, The New Book of Knowledge, I loved reading and looking at the pictures. I think my parents might still have a copy of one of them, I will have to ask when I visit them again.
When I was a student at Kitsaki School (now Senator Myles Venne School), we were given an art project assignment. Naturally, with my fascination with Haida art, I created a face on a soft log (soft as in slowly rotting). I made it similar to what would be a part of a totem pole. I painted it up with water paint. It did not look very good because I am not an artist, but I was proud of it. I enjoyed creating things like that because creating things was always on my mind. I just never developed an artistic ability.
When the project was done, I took my mini-totem pole home to show it off top my parents. One day, I decided to go play outside, like I always did, and left my totem pole in the living room of our over-crowded house so other people could look at it. When I came back in from the bitter cold, I could not find the totem pole I was so proud of. Later that day, I found out that it had been thrown in the stove. Oh my poor little heart was broken. We had been running out of wood and it was decided by someone that my precious art project could warm-up the house. It was a rotting log, and I doubt it drew much heat as it slowly burned to ash, little by little. I did not cry, but I was very disappointed.
In the last year of my teacher program, I did an assignment on Bill Reid, “an acclaimed master goldsmith, carver, sculptor, writer, broadcaster, mentor and community activist” (https://www.billreidgallery.ca/pages/about-bill-reid). His artwork was and is amazing. I received a good response on the project, and I even created a lesson on making one of his works on play dough (attached). That lesson received a very good mark in the art class. You do not need to be an artist to create great lessons for art class, you just need to appreciate great artwork and the time it takes for a dedicated artist to create such wonderful work.
Arts Education Lesson Plan (this plan is incomplete but can be customized) – lesson-plan1-type
I have a presentation, however, I cannot share because of copyright issues. There are links below if you want to view his work.
When I was a boy staying at the trapline in Pisew Lake, I rarely ever heard about April Fools Day. It was not something nimosōm would talk about so much but when he did, he called it kithāskīwi kīsikāw, literally “lying day” or “day of lying.” Even then, I do not remember any jokes or pranks being played on anyone.
My memory is very faint on this one, but nimosōm might have asked the family in the cabin if it was April Fool’s Day, “ī- kithāskīwi kīsikāk cī ōma?” I believe one of my uncles answered or it may have been one of my aunties, that it was April Fools Day. I cannot verify if this is how the conversation went, it was so long ago. I wish I could remember who nimosōm was talking about regarding kithāskīwi kīsikāw, it must have been funny because nohkom was laughing at his story. I wish I could go back and hear all the stories again. I missed out on so many stories, at least remembering would be great. I could see nimosōm’s shoulders bounce up and down as he laughed a hardy laugh at his own stories. Great times.
This time of year would be when our family would be waiting for mithoskamin – break-up. I spend many evenings looking out on the lake watching the possible unsafe ice that my parents warned me about. I listened to their warnings for the most part. I could not imagine being able to pull myself out of broken ice and from the freezing cold-water underneath.
Already things were winding down with our stay, my parents were already talking about going back home. My sisters, Susan and Mary, and I would be missing our cousin Flora-Jean and our auntie Elsie. It may have been that previous winter that Elsie took us sliding for new year’s day, down a very steep hill. Our aunt Alice would take us trapping nearby for martin.
In the cool evenings, nimosōm and I would be sitting around in the cabin. He would tell the most interesting stories that kept me intrigued for many hours over the course of the previous winter. After break-up, it would soon be time to go back to the rez and back to school in La Ronge. Nimosōm would be sad to see me go.
kithāskīwi kīsikāw – April Fools Day (literally lying day)
“i- kithāskīwi kīsikāk cī ōma?” – Is it April Fools Day?
Since as far back as I can remember, country music has been a constant pleasure anywhere I lived. I have listened and watched many people play guitar and sing ol’ Hank songs, among many other artists.
As a young boy, I remember my parents playing 8-track tapes of Charlie Pride, Conway & Loretta, and George Jones. They had this single player with one black speaker covering almost all of the white player itself. They had a record player before this and they had all the country greats. I remember my mom lifting up a golden record of Elvis, “Look what I got” she said. While Elvis was known as a rock ‘n’ roll singer, he sang many, many country songs.
In the late eighties and early nineties, my mother started listening to more contemporary artists such as, Brooks & Dunn, Randy Travis and Alan Jackson. I enjoyed the music as well but my tastes were and are still mixed. I can enjoy everything from country, hip-hop and even heavy metal. I have taken a liking to Taylor Swift, she is so talented.
I started learning guitar when I was a teenager, however I took a break from it until my early twenties when I began playing and singing some more. I was never very good but I enjoyed singing. I even wrote a song for my high school graduation called “Blaze the Trail.” I still have the lyrics somewhere, maybe I will put it on my FB one of these days.
My fingers were never really adaptive to the strings of a guitar so I would have to take frequent breaks. I did not have another guitar until my mid-thirties, but I did not play very much.
Last year, at the beginning of COVID-19 (referred to as corona virus at the time), I bought a guitar from my daughter in law and recorded a few covers. I mostly showed off my video editing skills as opposed to my guitar skills because I wanted to post on my Facebook page.
Today I went for a walk to one of the places where I would hunt ducks and do a bit of fishing: Sanderson Lake. It was a great experience, great that I actually walked that far from my house and great because the beauty was awesome.
The first thing I saw when I got on the lake was a small island. I looked all around the lake. It was deafeningly quiet. No sound and no other people in sight.
It had been years and years since I saw the place. I was going to walk back from there but I decided to walk to a peninsula to the right.
I remember as a boy, my father would take us through this lake to take us to La Ronge on a snowmobile. We would be bundled up in the back in a sled and covered in one of his huge blankets. The trips would be long and bumpy, but I would feel alone in my thoughts. I am not sure what my sisters were going through, but I doubt they were sleeping with the rough ride. During this time as a small boy, I would never see the trails or portages because we were obviously covered up. Almost each time, we would stop at a cabin to warm up. My late grandfather Moses would have a fire going and a fresh pot of tea. Sometimes there was food to eat. Those were great times.
As we got older, there were fewer trips because my father would hire a taxi to take the family to La Ronge and he would travel by snow machine himself and we would meet him there. We usually went to Bigstone or 101 Reserve.
The few times we travelled together, my father and I would take off before sunset. The one time, it was a warm, breezy day and as we were about to go down a hill, he said, “Look, no hands.” Before he could grab the handlebars, he hit a small spruce tree and dented the bumper bar. He was not going very fast, so it was fine. He straightened it out when we got home.
As a teenager, I used to walk through the portage like I did on this day, January 31, 2021. Of course, it looked exactly as it did because nobody lives there. The beautiful shorelines in all their glory, quiet, undisturbed, and seemingly very welcoming. However, I did not have snowshoes to explore the shore. The weather has not been favourable lately because it has been so cold. My father has snowshoes that I can borrow, so I hope I can go soon.
Another story about Sanderson Lake, a friend of mine and I went for a trip to the next lake to look for ducks or beavers. We scared up a small flock of ducks and we did not get a shot. We did not take the canoe over the portage because it was getting late. On our way back to Hall Lake, we were on the lake during a stunning sunset. As we paddled along, there was a small bat flapping around us. My friend quickly got annoyed and proceeded to blast the air with the shotgun we carried. Suffices to say, the bat went away.
One other time, another friend of mine wanted to check out the lake and do some fishing and to look for beaver. We hoped to see ducks too but were we too noisy to get close enough for a shot. During this trip, we took the canoe over the portage and explored the shores of Sanderson Lake in our borrowed canoe.
It was a beautiful sight in the clear summer day as we paddled around. He knew about the place more than I did and told me about some of the people who had camped there. We stopped at an island and it felt surreal to get on the small piece of earth in the middle of the lake. We talked about how our ancestors might have stopped here during long trips to eat food and drink tea, before moving on to other destinations.
My first trip to Sanderson Lake by myself when I was a teenager, was by mistake. I was across the lake on the shores of Hall Lake when I decided to venture into the woods to look for grouse, I parked my father’s snow machine and off I went. The snow was knee deep but light enough that I could wade through it. I hoped to see a grouse right away because it was snowing.
As I went along for a few minutes longer, I decided to turn back before I lost my trail. I thought I would cut through my winding trail because it looked to go in a curve. About 20 minutes later, I came out of the shore and did not recognize the area I was standing. Thankfully, I figured it out and went back to where I came from and finally arrived on the shores of Hall Lake again. It was about half to one-third of a kilometre away from where I left my father’s snow machine, but I was happy to see it. I remember not being that worried about it because I was too young to realize that it could have ended tragically. I took too many chances as a young man.
On my way back, I noticed some strange tracks and I enhanced the next few images so you can see what I see. Take a close look and I think you may notice that maybe a fox or coyote may have caught fowl of some kind and took it to the bush. I did see some feathers, but they are not clear in the pictures I took. Anyway, something happened and it is too bad I was not there to see it.
The images are not clear, it was getting dark by the time I started walking home.
First post of 2021, what a year 2020 has been. I started the year with being a teacher and ended up being an online resource teacher. Over the holidays, I became a Digital Communications Officer.
What a transition it is. The job is very demanding but at least it makes the days go faster. I am back with a few familiar faces and I am enjoying the tasks and duties because it plays off my strong points of technology. Videos and image editing, newsletters, web development/design and continuing my support for the teachers (it is all still under the same department).
My family is still healthy so far. I hope that doesn’t change. The case of COVID-19 have been climbing all over Canada and our small community has been hit with a few cases, but we are back down to zero. I hope it stays that way.
My stories have taken a hit and so have my inspirations for Cree memes. I have too much on my mind right now, but I am glad I secured my website for most of the coming year. Thank you to my contributors, I will try to come up with something during February.