By Kim Twatt
The Journey continues…
Robert had brought along an Orkney flag which he presented and in return we were given Sturgeon Lake First Nation flag which flies proudly outside our house on special occasions.
Harold had Saturday mapped out and the already steep learning curve would become almost vertical. We visited the graves of many of our relatives but most poignant was the site of William Twatt‘s final resting place. For months I had dreamed of somehow discovering how Magnus’s children had grown up, their descendant’s lifestyles and culture. Here I was, in this beautiful setting among all the people who were so kind to me. I felt so extremely fortunate.
It was Alistair’s turn to ride a buffalo, or so Harold teased. So we drove into prairie land to seek out the reserve’s buffalo herd. They were a healthy looking herd of over 100 animals. Harold made sure none of us got too close. The land they were roaming was the old Treaty site where families would gather annually to receive their $5 from the Government.
Towards the south-west end of Sturgeon Lake is Amisk Adventures, an eco-tourism business leased by the Band that summer, on an annual basis, to Audrey Kingfisher. Several members of her family were busy there during our visit. Walleye, northern pike, whitefish, perch and even sturgeon can be found in the lake. Canoes, boats and motors are available for hire but Dalton Kingfisher offered to take us on the lake, right round it in fact. He pointed out wildlife, beaver dens, the best fishing spots, and his own quiet thinking place on the shore of the lake. Close by, the spot William would have come to below his home. Dalton explained that in those days the reserve was mainly thick with conifers. However, in the early 1900s a Canadian logging company cut down vast areas of these trees. Dalton graphically described the lake filled with logs ready to be floated down river. In July, 2001 Sturgeon Lake First Nation received the final settlement of a specific claim dating back to 1906 when timber revenue rights had been taken away from the First Nation. Beyond the narrows at the other end of the lake is an area of land which the reserve lost in what seems, in my unqualified view, to have been a rather dubious deal. The aim is to regain this land, and I wish them every success.
Alistair had a go at fishing while Dalton spoke of his wish to some day catch one of the whitefish in the lake. Within moments we heard an eagle cry above and almost simultaneously, two pelicans took off ahead of us. One dropped a fish which Dalton wasted no time in scooping up into the boat. It was a 4.5lb whitefish! Dalton steadied his nerves with a cigarette as we watched the eagle soar over the trees. We thanked Dalton for this amazing tour, which he admitted was the first of his planned Heritage Tours. Brilliant stuff, Dalton.
Back at the trailer a young lady asked us round to the White Buffalo Treatment Lodge for tea. There, children with various addiction problems are helped. Sturgeon Lake First Nation play host to the lodge.
Later we were joined by many of my relations, including around 12 children who asked many questions about Orkney. There was an interest in our wildlife, Orkney’s young folk and the things they get up to, and Orkney in general. We sat outside until the sun set on another big day.
Robert Ermine at Sturgeon Lake had had a vision. He saw tipis with an elder in each. He saw children from the community listening and learning from the elders’ stories, legends and songs. And so the Sacred Circle Camp was born. By the shore of Sturgeon Lake there are at least six tipis including a larger one where lessons and ceremonies are held. During the summer local children use this day camp to enjoy singing, drumming, dancing, spirituality, and storytelling. They learn respect for themselves and others, skills they will take into their futures as good citizens. They are taught in traditional First Nations way. Their Silent Area is just that – simply the gentle swaying of the surrounding tall trees. Comfortable log benches form a circle here on a soft carpet of pine needles. In the camp the children have a small theatre in a natural outdoor amphitheatre, also a traditional sweat lodge. Robert Ermine says it is hard to teach everything you want to teach in seven weeks. But, if they learn to respect themselves then they may learn to respect others. Since the camp opened several years ago there has been a marked difference in the children’s behaviour generally. He is grateful, he says, to be given the opportunity to share the things the elders have passed down.
As we left, a bus load of happy children arrived. They called for Alistair to play with them, but we had to leave. Alistair had spent hours playing with the children in the lake at Amisk. Very noticeable had been the way in which so many children of all ages had played so easily together. There never were any tense or nasty moments, just good fun which Alistair had been part of.
Our time at Sturgeon Lake was coming to an end and I was only beginning to understand some of the customs and traditions of our cousins, the First Nations people of Canada. I believe many of us could learn and gain much from them and I now look at various aspects of life from a very different angle. Among the happiness I had been given some grim accounts of experiences in the residential schools. None of it was told with any grudge, in anger, or even with an eye for sympathy. The resulting legacy of problems, for several generations, from the suppressive and often cruel treatment is being addressed but may never be fully cured.
During our visit, Prince Albert Grand Council Aboriginal Healing Project opened its office to offer counselling and support services to both former First Nations residential school students and their families. Present at the opening was Chief Earl Ermine. While an employee of the Grand Council he had helped develop and obtain funding for this healing programme designed by First Nations people. He said:
“The residential school had a negative impact both in our community and in urban centres.”
Chief Ermine had spent six years as a student in residential school.
“As you pass by the school, the memories stick with you. The memories persist despite the school’s recent destruction by fire.”
We had to leave. Harold took me on a drive right round the reserve. He pointed out the spot where he remembered the trader stopping when he came to trade for furs. We drove through land once wooded, land which at one time was farmed, and land sadly no longer part of the reserve but, hopefully, may be once again.
One of the residents there had reminded me that,
media folk seem to have a knack of embellishing the facts for their own reasons, which I assume include sensationalisation so that publications will sell well. When it comes to Indian matters a lot of writers seem stuck in the late 19th century since Hollywood has sensationalised that period for so many years. Some people seem to have problems grasping the idea that there is now a modern society of well educated Indians who are running their own programmes and getting along quite well in today’s world. Like any other society each person is different from the next and it is not proper to generalise about Indians than it is to generalise about any other group. Each person is an individual and lives their life the way they see fit. Some prefer participating in cultural activities and others do not. Some prefer following a more traditional lifestyle and others prefer a more modern lifestyle. Some prefer traditional beliefs and others are very involved in Christian religion.
On returning to Orkney my personal wish was that some day we Orcadians could welcome some of our First Nations cousins to see our wonderful islands and share our own culture with them. Also, I had noticed that Sturgeon Lake First Nation Council Chamber lacked an Orkney chair! The following summer Robert, Alistair and I returned to Sturgeon Lake for a more relaxed holiday in one of the chalets at Amisk. We enjoyed canoeing on the lake, roaming through the trees, some more of Florence’s home-made soup and bannocks and Lyle’s hot-dogs at the kiosk. We had brought with us an Orkney chair for the council chamber made by Colin Kirkness and paid for with kind donations from friends and relations in Orkney.
Coming Next Part 11 Exploring Cultures