Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cedar Tea: An Indian Thing

Cedar Tea: An Indian Thing

Cedar Tea: An Indian Thing

The colourful lights danced in the air just over the rooftop. My friend Bird says “It’s Roger Black’s house. He’s a bad guy, an arsehole.  He beats his girlfriend all the time and never gets charged.”  The 7 dancing lights disappeared as quickly as they came.  The lights were like fire balls of light randomly floating over the house. We should have been shocked or at the least afraid. To us it was more of an oddity. Something you do not expect but are not surprised when it happens. We stood in silence taking it all in trying to understand what we just witnessed.

“Weird, eh?”  I wondered what in the heck it was. I figured Bird would know what the lights  were or at least have an idea.  Bird was one of those guys who spent a lot of his time with the old people in the Reserve. He was always going to the Traditional Ceremonies and was used to being in the bush. Many times he would disappear for days and just show up for a cup of tea at my home. If the dancing lights were some kind of “Indian thing” then Bird would know for sure or at least know someone who would know. “So what do you think?” I asked.

“UFO man, it was a UFO.” He laughs. I like Bird. He is pretty cool for guy. He is dark lean lanky scruffy with the classic Indian Squanto look. Girls may like that look. He is the classic Indian look like you would see as a side character in one of those Urban Indian flicks. He does have a good look to him. Me I think the other girls in the Rez are crazy. You can’t even look at a guy and they want to fight you. It’s one of those community things where you know it’s messed up. It doesn’t scare me those girls. They really can’t fight, those fatties; pull hair and scratch you. That’s not fighting. Heck with that noise I can’t be bothered with the dysfunctional Reserve drama. I’ll hang with Bird, he doesn’t get after me and there’s no drama. I mean he’s cute but I am not sure if he goes with girls. Some say he floats with the butterflies but I don’t know me.  For me I don’t like those who are small minded; who a person is who he is. Who are we to cast judgement? I think Bird is just Bird, a good friend.

“I’ll walk you home Meeka” he says.
As we walk he starts mumbling about the “handsome stranger” story told by the old Grannies in the Rez. It’s always the same kind of story about this handsome guy who shows up at the party or dance, looking like Tom Jones and just has everyone getting around him. He dances with all the ladies. Has everyone laughing and just happy. During the dance you can hear the odd noise of clacking.  Finally one of the party goers sees his feet and he has the hooves of a goat. Tom Jones is exposed as someone evil. He burns a big hole through the wall of the house and flees into the night. Leaving everyone to know they partied with the Devil. Those old ladies and their stories, always trying to scare the crap out of you for drinking.
Bird tells me, “You know there is some truth to what those old holy- roller ladies say.”
“Get out of here. If it’s true how come the handsome stranger only shows up where Indians are? And looking like Tom Jones?”

Bird laughed, “Okay maybe looking like Evan Adams. Nope Adam Beach, now he’s a Devil I would dance with.” Snot blew out of my nose as I laughed hard.
I was never one to really believe in the scary stuff, but I must admit when I have to walk home at night, down this god damn gravel road, the noise my feet make scares the pee right out me. Sometimes I run home from a visit at the Band hall. The damn noise of the crunching gravel getting louder as it chases me all the way home in the pitch dark.
“No, really” Bird says. “I’ll let you know, tonight we saw Indian Medicine. The kind only the old people know about. Roger that bastard, I think has asked for it. Roger’s girlfriend has an uncle from Sandy Lake. This guy has the jazz if you know what I mean. He has power. You don’t mess with this guy. You ever see someone with a crooked face? Their mouth and eye drooped over? This guy can do that. What you saw tonight was the guy’s jazz. Indian medicine is a real thing. People used to say we Neechies practice witchcraft. Man, people are stupid. Indian medicine is not witchcraft, its working and having help from the Spirits. I think April’s uncle called on the Spirits and sent them watch over her. But I’m just guessing.”
I hadn’t seen Bird for a week after the night of jazz, the light show. I guess he must have gone back for one of his treks in the bush or maybe visiting the Old Man who lives on the other side of the river. Never really see the Old Man around much in public. He likes to keep to himself and doesn’t’ involve himself in the whole Reserve vibe of gossip and drama. He is one of those guys who does his own thing.
I’ve been thinking about Roger and his girlfriend. Everyone knows the story of them. He’s the rich one’s son. They think they’re better than everyone ‘cause they have the store. The girl, April is always looking down at the ground and doesn’t have too much friends anymore. She’s pretty but looks scared all the time, hardly talks. People say she’s snobby but I know she’s scared to talk to anyone because Roger will get all green-monster jealous on her. I wonder what the lights really mean? Maybe it’s just one of those, what you call phenomenon of science, like Northern lights or something. Jazz my arse. I feel for April, I think everyone knows her guy Roger beats the piss out of her.
Bird sat on the floor of the Old Man’s house.  It was a small shack of a house, a one room building. A wood stove in the corner and a couch for a bed. Wood, tobacco and Cedar smoke filled the air. The Old Man sat on the only chair in room. He spoke quietly and Bird had to strain to hear. “You saw a Beast. The Beast doesn’t go unless he is asked. Someone sent the Beast out.”
“What does the Beast look like?” Bird asked. 
The Old Man slapped Bird teasingly in the face and laughed. “He looks like you. It was you.” Bird couldn’t hide his guilt with a false smile.
“Grandfather, I’m sorry. The guy is a douche. He’s a bully. He’s going to kill April one day. April has always been nice to me. She was my first; my first friend. Now she is scared to even say hi to me. I just wanted to scare him.”
The Old Man could have scolded Bird for his actions. The act of calling the Beast was not without danger. The Beast if not satisfied would turn on the caller. The Beast can be a finicky eater; his appetite needs to be satisfied. 
“My nephew don’t call me Grandfather. I still entertain Women. I’m Uncle. Tonight I will go out on a visit with Gladys, she likes me. I am the wind in her hair.” The Old Man smiles and picks up his Pipe. With an acknowledged the Creator done he looks seriously at the boy. To Bird he says, “You know bad is out there. Doing good is what you want to do. Doing good with bad is the same as doing bad. Now let’s have some tea.”
April was sitting on the couch having a cup of tea and looking through a copy of Chatelaine magazine. She had her legs and feet tucked under her bum. Comfortable and lost in thought; a fantasy of living in the city, away from the Reserve and all the ugly talk. She sang quietly to herself as she sipped her Blue Ribbon tea black. She wondered what in the world did she do to deserve a life of anguish and hurt. The beatings started early in their relationship. At first it was just the unkind words. Then it went onto the putting down of friends and family. Roger didn’t like April talking to anyone, guys and girls. April stopped going out for tea with friends and family. April soon found herself with only Roger and his family; a family of bullies. The beatings were not too bad at first. A slap, a hair pull and a push. It became worse and worse. It was like the old story of the boiling frog; put him in the cold water and slowly it heats up until it is boiling. By the time you are in hot water it’s to god-damn late to get out. The latest beating was last week. It was a bad one. She felt like something was torn inside her stomach. Roger beat her in the body for what felt like forever. If it wasn’t for the loud scratching noise on the roof, he might have killed her. She thought she was dying as she could see the bright lights dancing around in the room. Roger froze in mid-kick and stopped the beating. He hasn’t hit her lately.  Small miracles.
I decided I would go and look for Bird today. I would go behind the Old Man’s place as there is a trail there into the bush. After a half hour walk in the bush I heard the crackling of fire, I smelled the wood smoke and Cedar Tea.  God it’s beautiful out here in the bush. Bird was sitting around a small fire. He had a bunch of twigs in his hands and he had a Toad.
“What you doing with the Toad? How in the heck you find a Toad this time of year, it’s kind of cold.”
Bird eyes got big and he got mad. “What you doing here? Not right, you sneaking around being all sneaky and stuff. What are you, a ninja?”
The toad was a big fat one, all brown and nasty looking. I don’t remember ever seeing a toad that big around here. 
“So what’s with the toad?” 
Bird grinned like I know him to when he has a secret. Guys don’t know how to hide stuff from girls, even guys like Bird.
“Oh, this little beast? Just found him under a log as I was going around picking up sticks to burn. He looked cold so I wanted to warm him up. What you doing here anyway? I’m making Cedar Tea want to share a cup?”
 I let the lie go so we sat, drank tea and gossiped about the crazy arse girls on the Rez. Which girl was cheating on which boy and who got into a fight at the Band office. We laughed about Tommy being slapped around by his Grannie. Tommy was a local drug dealer. His Grannie saw him handing pills to one of the girls at the store. Grannies don’t like that kind of thing.
Old Man sat on his couch. It was dark out. He knew. He knew the Beast was out. The Beast had a hunger. It would only go to sleep after the hunger was gone. Stupid nephew, wanting to do right but this was not the way to do it. Old Man knew he had to feed the Beast so Nephew could not get hurt. A soft glow of red was in the room. The heat of the wood stove felt good. Now it’s time for some tea.
Roger hummed as he rode around the gravel road on his quad. He liked to cruise around the reserve at night. He would try and run over dogs. Roger had no regard for anything and anyone. As a young guy he was a bad dude. He bullied those who were smaller than him and he liked to dog pile someone who was drunk. A pure arse-wipe of a human being. His good looks and loud laughs could you trick you into thinking he was a good guy. He had kids with a few different girls but he never did the Dad thing.
Roger drank the last of his beer and tossed the bottle. He stopped at the edge of the creek north side of the reserve. Took a leak and whistled loud like a battle cry. Took a quick wipe of his hand on his jeans to get rid of the pee droplets.  Lighting up some of the weed his cousin brought from the city, just felt so right tonight.  The wind was quiet and the stars were bright. Northern lights danced all green purple white blue and red.  He whistled real loud trying to get the lights to dance. Everyone knew you whistled to get the lights dancing.  Crack!  Sounded like something broke a tree behind him. Roger felt the goose bumps rise on his arms. His neck felt like a snake licked him. The fear gripped him instantly. The joint fell out of his fingers as he tried to move. It was like one of those horror dreams where you can’t move or can’t scream. But it wasn’t a dream. Roger couldn’t even whimper as he looked at the dark bush move. He could see it. It looked like…
I ran into Bird at the Health Centre. “Hey Bird did you hear about Roger?  He had an accident out by Raven’s Creek. They say he flew off his quad and hit a tree.” 
The Band cops had found Roger that afternoon. He didn’t show up for work and his Dad called the Band office to see if anyone saw him. Band cops just drove around and found the quad by the creek off a dirt path. It took a while to find Roger. There he was impaled on a tree branch. He must have been riding real fast and just flew off the quad they figure. How else could he have gotten up in the tree?   Bird didn’t have any questions on the reserve gossip. His only reply to the local news was “Drunk I bet.” It was kind of weird for Bird to be so quiet, after all this was class “A” gossip in a world where gossip is gold.
The Old Man chopped wood for an hour. He sat in the yard on a big stump. The sun was shining and his forehead wet with sweat. It feels good to work. As Bird walked out of the bush he saw the Old Man sitting on a stump drinking tea from an old glass sealer.
“Did you hear about the Black’s boy?” The old man asked. The Old Man looked at Bird.
 Bird replied “Who cares, he’s a piece of shit anyway.”
The Old Man looked sad. “Nephew I know what you did. The Beast, he was hungry and you woke his need. It was your anger which woke him. No amount of Cedar Tea would have pleased the Beast. I know you asked Toad to go see him. The Toad didn’t go to the boy it was Machi, the Wicked One.  
Bird started to cry. “Grandfather I just wanted to scare him. I asked Toad just to talk to him. Show him the sparks of the Toad. I only used small Tamarack twigs for the sparks. I gave him ribbon and some coins. Guess he didn’t like the colour of ribbon or the nickels.”
The Old Man led Bird into his home. “Nephew you wanted so bad to hurt the Black boy. Your anger woke the Beast. The Toad didn’t answer your offering. The Beast woke with a hunger. Yes the Tamarack flew the first time. I saw the Fireballs you sent. They were bright. But then I heard the Trees cracking. I knew Beast was waking. So I sent Toad home to sleep. Beast was going to come for you. I had to make a choice, let Beast come for you or give him the Black boy. I gave him the boy and now I have to live with that. Makes no difference if he was a piece of shit.” 
Bird cried and moaned. “I’m sorry Grandfather, I’m sorry”.
It was weeks since I saw Bird. Gossip around the Reserve was April’s uncle from Sandy Lake did Indian  Medicine on Roger and his family. The Black family responded to the gossip by bringing in a Medicine Woman from another reserve. They also raised the price of Blue Ribbon tea – bastards. People are saying so much medicine flying around the Reserve is going to glow. Me I know what really happened. You see I was out there the night Roger had his accident. The Old Man is my Grandpa. Poor Bird thinks he can talk to the animal spirits. The night the Fireball flew over Roger and April’s house I figured something was going to happen. I never saw a Fireball before but heard of them. Didn’t realize what it was until Grandpa told me. Didn’t know Bird had it in him to send a real Fireball. Grandpa said my Mom actually caught one when she was a little girl. He said when she opened her hand it was a ball of twigs, diamond willow.
Poor Roger he just smoked the wrong weed. Turns out the weed had LSD laced in it. Tommy is a little sneaky like that with his weed. Speeding while you’re drugged out is a recipe for disaster. It was gross and neat the way Roger flew in the air after hitting the log laid across the path. Roger was known to drive drunk and fast around the reserve. I saw him driving around earlier. Just thought we would slow him down a bit. Grandpa knows his way around a chain saw. Roger was so high he didn’t even slow down the path to Raven’s Creek. Unlucky trip for him. I didn’t expect he would fly so high; his arms flapping with him screaming. I wonder what he had seen before he hit the tree? The Tamarack Tree branches impaled him through his eyes and torso. Poor Roger only a matter of time he would pay for all the hurt he caused. I didn’t hate him, even when he attacked me by the creek all those years ago. I was just a dumb kid. Didn’t know he was that evil. Since then I have not had anything stronger to drink than Cedar Tea. Oh yeah, the old Medicine Woman the Black’s got looking to send medicine back to the “uncle”, she is not going to do anything. Turns out she is an old girlfriend of Grandpa. If you want to talk about Jazz, now he has Jazz.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Traditional Native Adoption Ceremony: Protecting Our Children

Adopting a child is a wonderful.  It is celebration and acknowledgment of growing your family.
We had an Adoption Ceremony and we did it publicly.

We held an Adoption Ceremony at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Our friend, our relative David and Sherryl Blacksmith had been asked to conduct the Ceremony. Our friend Roger Greene came and sang for the Ceremony with his Drum.

There were a few reasons for doing a public ceremony.  Of course one was because we are so proud and we were showing off our Grand-daughter.  She is now three. The other not so subtle reasons are we want to make a show, make people aware.  A show of what has been done for ever. Many many families - Grannies, Aunties and their families have raised their relatives kids. Traditional Adoption should again be recognized. Recognized more so by our own community. We need to realize we have a say in our community. We have a say in where our Children will go live. 

Today the Child and Family Services industry is over worked with our children. Why? There are so many reasons. None of them are very good. We have been neglecting our families. We can change that with following what our Old People have done for ever. Take a hand in the lives of our relatives. 

When we did a announcement for people to attend the Adoption Ceremony we wanted to hear from those raised and those who are raising relatives. We wanted them to come and share their experience. Relatives did come out. They spoke on how they were raising Grandkids and were raised by Grandparents. It made the day even more special. We wanted our daughter to know her sharing the baby with us was a good thing.  That we were there to love her and it is fine. We wanted her to know it was something our families have done forever. We wanted her to know her girl is loved. A child can never have enough love. We shouldn't be there to take down people in their time of need but to be there when they need us most. Looking after a child and supporting the parents is one of those times. 

We also wanted to feel secure in being recognized as our Grandbaby's parents-guardians. You see with the way the system is, just raising your family member is not enough. You have to pass the provincial laws of being a guardian. We get that. We get you can't just have anyone taking kids and raising them. It would be wrong, wouldn't it? If it was wrong how come so many Granny's and Aunties (along with their whole families) were successful?  We seem to forget we were people who looked after each other. Now we rely on a bureaucracy to look after our children. We don't have the paper work required to be recognized by government agencies/bureaucracy.  We do not have CFS agency involvement., but we had support from our Cousin Frank, who works in the CFS industry.  Our daughter voluntarily allowed us to be the Care givers of Baby Aviree.

I admire people out there, good kind people. There are people working in the system to make sure our kids are safe. The first thing is to make sure the kids are protected. Protection from physical emotional and spiritual issues. At a Child Care agency gathering held in Winnipeg, this beautiful Maori woman spoke about their children in Care. She said taking Children away from their heritage, the family roots is placing them in Spiritual trauma. Placing them in foreign environments is the same as doing harm to them. So it is vital, it is critical that we keep them in our homes. Not only should we protect them from physical and emotional harm but we also must keep them from spiritual harm. 

We are looking for the system to house and protect our children. Why the heck is that?  Where are we? With this public announcement we were hoping to remind our community, we have it in our power to protect our own children. 

It starts with recognizing we are extraordinary but really its not. We are just doing what many other  communities have done and are doing.  For my wife my kids are our grandkids its just carrying on what many have and have done with their families; just looking after them. 

So we are hoping you take up the call to the community. We should not rely on the institutions to look after our children. We should be reminding ourselves we need to protect our children. If we are not going to protect them, who is going to?  

The Question I ask is now what?  

Is anyone going to recognize our Adoption?  I mean besides our community of friends and relatives.  Will courts recognize our rights to the child? Can we have her in our health plans/benefits?  Can we make all decisions for her?  No one from our Indigenous lobby groups came to our Adoption Ceremony. I think I will write to the provincial adoption body and ask. You know it is kind of disheartening when you get no notice from the Indigenous lobby bodies. This should be an issue at the heart of our lobby groups, it is about our Children. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Sting of Betrayal.

Betrayal comes in many forms; the cheating husband, the friend who uses you, the boss who uses your ideas for their own, the verbal agreement broken, the undermining of your worth, and the  call you down to other parties.

Betrayal can be small things like not keeping a promise to pick you up for a movie but they go with someone else or it could be a huge event like sleeping with your wife's Auntie (and telling her I love you - - Auntie).  Regardless betrayal is a break of trust. Are we at fault in the betrayal. I mean after-all you knew what I was like and you still married me. Or is the fault of betrayal on the one who has broken the trust?

Betrayal no matter how small stings. It hurts. The reason it hurts is because it is personal. Betrayal in its very nature is personal. I don't know if you can be betrayed but a stranger.  I  am sure politicians betray all the time. It can be very personal to some and "oh well, its just another day at the office of a politician" for others.

Feeling bad for someone close to me.  He is the midst of a work coup-d'etat.  I feel bad because of the situation; a small work place with friends and acquaintances. What is repugnant is to use a major cause and to fit it into their personal grievance. How sad is that. We  are constantly skewing situations to fit our narrative. It is the way of betrayal - vilify those not on your side.  Opportunity is key. So when you see a wound like a colleague under fire, there may be those who will pounce on the wounded. I wish I could be a judge of integrity. Like to say you have no integrity. But I'm a person who does not have the luxury of integrity.  I am not that person. In any case neither are those taking part in the work place coup.  It happens everyday in many situations.

Can we  look at betrayal as normal? Can we excuse it? Or is it so vile that we can never forgive betrayal?

I think we forgive or overlook betrayal all the time. At the same time our trust has been broken and in some cases crushed. The act of betrayal is hard to accept. It is because we invested in the other party, the other person. Depending on the level of trust we put into the relationship, it will have an impact on how we react.

What of the betrayer, are they bad?  Or is it the circumstance that put them in the position to betray?

I am not sure.

The gut reaction is to be really upset and angry at the betrayer. We don't question our role in the betrayer's actions. It all depends I guess.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

No Creativity = No Change = Empty Talk

Nine people killed in house fire in Pikangikum. Pimicikamak Cree Nation has high number of suicide deaths and high number of suicide attempts. One year ago Shamattawa  Reserve had four deaths from suicide. The response of course is a few stories in the media outlets and sound bites from both Indigenous politicians and main stream politicians. The issues seem to be similar: poverty, poor housing, absence of resources for youth and need more cash for the communities.

There is a cry used many times by Indian leaders of "Third World Conditions".  Sorry but I cringe when I hear someone use the analogy.  Canada is part of Global North and it is true the conditions on Reserves are bad. Bad compared to Canada standards.  Canada enjoys a disparity of riches which half the world (Global South) does not. So yes Indians have it bad and it should not be so. However to compare the conditions of Reserves to poor countries is wrong.  It paints a picture that is not true and diminishes the argument (although righteous) of sorrowful conditions on Reserves.

So what can we do?  Or what should our leaders be saying or looking at?  What can we do, what can they do to change the situation we find our people in?

We know there are finite resources. We know in the short term no one is going to come and give money. So what to do. The inequities in Canada between the main stream life and the life of a Native person in the Reserve are huge.

We need to try new things. Look at the houses. There are many new innovative creative housing models out there;

round concrete
0 energy homes
Mandala homes
Alternative homes
Dome homes

Whether or not these homes could be an alternative to the type of structure currently used in Reserves is beside the point; the point is to think of alternatives. Alternatives to the situation now. There is a man that made a home out of a Round steel storage bin on highway number one in Manitoba. There is a man called the garbage warrior who made a home with recycled material. There are outside the current situation thinking. We are not doing that. Instead we rely on old battle cries and waiting for someone to fix the situation.

So let's stop saying we are Third World (or even the Forth World label) its an embarrassment.

Instead let's say this is what we are going to try, this is what we are considering, this could work.

The lives of our people really depend on a change in outlook by everyone.

We need our kids to be more than a media soundbite.

Cherokee Fiddle, cause Good Whiskey Never Let Him Lose His Place

 Urban Cowboy is a 1980 movie with a soundtrack steeped in western songs that had great Redneck lines like, "single bars and good time ...