Well I got the opportunity to go to Pukatagwagan Reserve in Northern Manitoba. Only two ways to get there, an eight hour train ride from The Pas, Manitoba, or by airplane. Oh, yes, you can drive on a winter road during the cold months, but not right now. My brother Don has a consultant business and he gets jobs with Reserves. He got an email from Carolyn Constant of OCN, Opaskwayak Cree Nation near the town of The Pas. She needed someone to provide a 3 day-seminar. My brother was going in for an operation and he couldn't go, so he asked me. I was happy and excited to go. I had never been to Puk (as it is locally called), so the opportunity to meet new people and see the Reserve was good for me.
I left Winnipeg at 5:30 pm on Tuesday. There is an Indian gas station just on the outskirts of the City. It is Roseau River Ojibway Reserve land. A number of Reserves in Canada were cheated out of land and there are a number of land claims taking place right now. It is a very slow, expensive and complicated process. The problem of Land claims is compounded because the Federal Government has no land, with the exception of federal parks and National Defense land. The provinces have control over all non-private land in Canada. The provinces are not technically responsible for the Indian land shortage, but they still are involved in the land claim talks. It is a long and ugly story. So I gassed up my car on the Reserve. It is here that I get a discount on gas. The Reserve can fore-go the tax on Indians when they gas up. It results in a few cents being dropped from the full gasoline price. Anyway, while I was gassing up the car. A group of Indians were gathered in the corner of the parking lot taking pictures. I went over to see what was going on. This was the group of people, young mostly, that walked from Nelson House Manitoba, Canada. The group was part of a Running Club that the Native community holds. Nelson House is a Cree Reserve about 900 Kilometers north of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The road I take to The Pas is highway number six north. It is a six hundred Kilometer trip so that is about 6 hour drive, not too bad. I drove up to Fairford Reserve before I stopped for more tea, and gasoline. Fairford is called Pinaymootang by the Indians there. I think it means where the Partridge (Grouse) nests, but I don't know me. You turn off the highway six onto highway sixty and go past the Easterville community, also known as Chemawaywin Reserve. I didn't stop here for fuel. I decided to go through and keep on driving down the highway. I saw three deer, one black bear and one wolf as I made my way in The Pas. I pulled into the town about midnight. I was pretty lucky as Carolyn had booked me a room at the Kikiwak Inn, the hotel owned and situated on the OCN Reserve. I was very surprised to see a wolf by the highway. It was when I was close to The Pas when I saw the wolf. Carolyn's husband Arnold, told me that there were quite a few of them around that area.
Wednesday morning Carolyn and I were to fly out to Pukatawagan. Due to freezing rain, we were told to wait until that afternoon. We flew out to Puk in a Navaho plane. It was a hour long very windy ride. I put my head to the side of the window and went to sleep. I don't fly well. In some cases I would have thrown up. Upchucked on whomever was seated beside me, but not this time. I was the ultimate cool, cool as a cucumber.
Pukatawagan airstrip is a little ways from the Reserve. I am not sure but most of the airstrips in the northern communities are not situated on Reserve land, but rather on Provincial land. But who knows. There had been rain up in the Reserve. Mud-atawagan is the name that Puk gets, and rightly so. There is no real access to gravel up there. The roads are made up of clay mud. When it rains it is heavy and sticky. There are no cars up there. People use trucks and four-wheel quads. The winter road and the community road would beat up a car in no time. Even the RCMP (provincial police) use four by four trucks with big knobby tires. I did not take rubber boats on my trip. I wore sandals and brought my running shoes. I dressed for comfort of the south and never even thought about what it would be like in the north. I was lucky that I took a jacket. My wife made me take a sweater and a jacket. You know how women are, nag-nag-nag. Jeez, you would think I was a kid or something. I am a grown man I can take what I want. Anyway I decided to take a sweater and a jacket on the trip. It was raining heavy and one morning there was frost. Just a little bit of frost.
There are no hotels up in Puk. People try to get permission to stay at the nurses trailer. The nursing station has a trailer for their staff that come into the community. The trailer was full-up so Ralph Caribou asked his sister if we could stay at her place. Carolyn has a cousin up in the Reserve so she went stay with them. The people who took me in where very nice people, Andrew Dumas and Claire Caribou. Claire works as a janitor for the nurse's station. Andrew is hard of hearing, so it was fun talking with him. He would look at me sometimes and laugh. I would laugh too, but I had no idea what I was laughing at. I think he thought I was a bit simple, as I talked lots to him and he just stared at me like I was crazy. Andrew has one of those vine plants in his living room. He has tacked the vines to the ceiling. The vines go all over the house. There must be some dampness to the vines or something, because their smoke detector kept beeping every few minutes. It was making me crazy, I wanted to rip those things done from the ceiling. Andrew and Claire are immune to the sound.
Carolyn and I were hosted by Ralph Caribou. He was the ex-Chief of the community. He is now working for the University College of the North. He is in charge of the UCN program located in Puk. Ralph and Carolyn want to bring a carpenter apprentice program to Pukatawagan. Housing in Reserves is a major issue. There is a shortage of houses in all (I say that with confidence) Reserves in Canada. In addition to the housing shortage, there is the issue of poor housing. Whether it's poor workmanship, old homes, and mold issues. Pukatawagan has an additional issue with soil contamination. The old school had diesel fuel lines leaking underneath the building. Children got sick. The school had to be closed by the community before anyone would examine the situation. A number of homes are situated on contaminated soil and have to be torn down. Not a very good situation for the community.
The group of people that took part in the workshop were Reserve carpenters and a few people that are going to be working in their sawmill. Taking part were Jonathon Bear, Melvin Castel, Ken George Colomb,Carolynn Constant, Terri (with an "i") MaCallum, Gladys Sinclair, Cody Bighetty, Cornelius (Professor) Linklater, William Colomb, Eli Caribou, Jerome (I have been a carpenter for 25 years!) Colomb, Elton Bighetty, Darcy Colomb, Sheldon Caribou, Johnny Baker, Zack Black, Joseph Colomb.
It was a lot of fun to be in the community. The host Ralph Caribou and his wife made us a lunch. It was fried Pickerel (Walleye), Bannock made with brown flour, mashed potatoes, steam vegetables, and some blue berry jam. I passed on the jam. Have never been a fan, although I like blueberries. My Mom was crazy over jam and so is my wife. Me I pass on the stuff. I can tell you I have most likely had better tasting food before, but this feast was up there for sure. The food we ate was so good, mmmmmm aaaaaaahhhhhh. I had my share of the food and then some.
The group of people we visited with and dealt with were great. A good bunch of Indians. Laughing, teasing and being shy all at the same time. Jerome kept telling us he was a carpenter for 27 years. He didn't say 25, he made sure to let us know it was 27. A master carpenter. Johnny was one of the more vocal in the crowd. Not afraid to let us know what he thought. He was the guy that introduced me to the BBW's. Big Beautiful Women. I like that. Or he said they could be Big Bodacious Women. There was a young guy named Cody, I hope he does well in the future. Corn is a guy there that is very smart. One of those guys that visualizes things and then finds a solution. And of course there were a couple of girls in the class. Good for them. ;) :D
On Friday we had the opportunity to go visit the University building situated in the Reserve. The University College of the North has a couple of trailers up in the Reserve where classes take place. I met this amazing lady there. Shirley Anderson is an Ojibway (actually Saulteaux) from Fairford First Nation (aka Pinaymootang). She is my new hero. She can speak Anishinabe like a professional. She has one of those friendly ways, not afraid to share, laugh and joke with you. She talks with you like you have known her for years. A very interesting childhood (from what I heard in that little bit of time visiting with her). She has a strength that comes through in her mannerism. Not the schnook type. You know what a schnook is; loud, brash, arrogant, insensitive, mean. Nope this lady is definitely not a schnook, but she ain't no wall flower either (not sure why I used ain't, I ain't no damn American).
On Friday at 4:30 pm it was time to head back to the The Pas. I met a few people at the airport. Johnny and Melvin were there. Johnny was having some meat flown into the Reserve. So we had a chance to hug and say goodbye. He didn't strike me as the hugging type, so I didn't hug him or Melvin. Melvin was a very energetic and interesting guy. He wants to learn and he is not afraid to seek answers to his questions. I didn't get the chance to learn about his family life. But I didn't get the chance to visit people in the evenings. I am sure they were busy in the evenings.
We were quite lucky on return trip to The Pas. The plane was a medi-vac plane so it was faster and smoother than the regular Navajo that we came into Puk with. I guess something was wrong with their Navajo plane. The Medi-Vac Service is vital to the north. When people are seriously ill, the plane is their only means to get to a hospital.The Medi-vac is a life line.
When we first arrived to Puk on that Wednesday a Perimeter Airline plane was grounded there. It had hit a Seagull on the way down. So on Friday the plane was still being fixed. Scary to be a passenger going back on that plane. Perimeter is based out of Winnipeg Manitoba. We spoke with the pilot of that plane and he was confident that it would be okay. He said the mechanic is going to ride back with him. The Airlines in Manitoba are key to the well being of a number of Reserves in Manitoba. Many communities are isolated and have limited modes of transportation routes. The winter road life is vital for them. That is when fuel and building materials are brought into the community. Pukatawagan is lucky in one respect, that they have a rail service. Other communities can only rely on the air in spring and summer and the frozen winter road in the winter months. With the warming climate, short winter seasons have been raising havoc on the isolated Reserves that are in the South of the province. This year, many hauling trucks got stuck on the ice roads and could not finish hauling supplies. The cost and impracticability of flying material is just too cost prohibitive. Flying back it was not as windy so the ride was a lot smoother. I did grab the little Filipino guy sitting next to me when we first took off. I grabbed him kind of hard and it was a little bit of a spectacle, as I was the only person to ask the pilots for puke bags. The pilot was very concerned, he did not want me to throw up on the floor. There were 5 other passengers; Cree women; they laughed at me. Women!
In The Pas I gave a Shirley and one of the Cree ladies a ride to their hotels. Shirley bought me lots of Earl Grey tea for the road trip. I started out to Winnipeg right after I fueled up the car. I was using my wife's 03 Corolla. It's good on gas, but a little loud on the highway. Highway noise can be quite loud in these little cars.
Just outside of the town of The Pas, I picked up a hitch-hiker. His name was Michelle Reba from Quebec. I swear to God, his accent was so strong, he sounds like former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien. He is 48 and a Pentecostal preacher, a Christian. He goes from Reserve to Reserve preaching the bible. I had thought about letting him off, but decided to visit with him. He did preach quite a bit. We had some sparring back and forth, and he would come back with "the Lord works in Mysterious ways". He certainly does. I asked him if he shakes around and hits people in the forehead real hard. He said he doesn't go for that. I asked him why God was testing Abraham when he sent him up the mountain to sacrifice his son. Michelle said God wanted to know if Abraham truly love him. I asked Michelle why was God so insecure and how come he didn't have faith in Abraham that his love was real. We had that type of conversation up to the outskirts of Winnipeg. I bought Michelle lunch and pop. He sold me a Saskatchewan flag for twenty-five dollars. Michelle told me that I cannot tell people about my kindness to people. If I do I would lose the reward that Jesus had in store for me. I said okay.
I arrived back into Winnipeg around midnight, it was raining pretty good. It was nice to be home. I visited with Suz and ended up watching Star Trek until two thirty in the morning.
That was my trip to Pukatawagan. I would for sure go back and visit. This time I would take rubbers and some gifts for people. I didn't really have gifts to give, so I gave my razor, a sweater, a little cash,peanuts, and some beef jerky to my hosts.