A page from a DAREarts Artist-Educator’s Diary – Webequie, February 21, 2016
Waiting for the Plane
“We stand alone with amazing; the sound of our skates,
on the clear northern ice makes us feel alive and free
It’s here where we speak our language, cool and unique, ancient and beautiful…Oji-Cree” – DAREarts Webequie youths song, 2016
Yesterday, I was sitting at the receptionist’s desk at the school in the northern fly-in First Nation Webequie on a long distance call talking to an Elder when I heard a little voice. Well, rather, a strong young voice.
“Do you have my phone number? I need my stick.”
I was totally confused. In one ear was Elder Cliff Standingready, and in the other ear was a seven-year-old boy tugging on my arm. I asked him what his name was and he told me and as I spoke with Cliff, I looked desperately for anything that would possibly reveal this kid’s home number.
“Is there anyone in the school besides us?” I asked, “Morris?”
“Yeah, he’s in there.” I finished up my call with Cliff and we went to the school custodian’s office door. As we walked down the hall, I looked down. The kid was wearing his skates, walking on the school floor. “We need his hockey stick,” I said to Morris. “He doesn’t know his dad’s number.” Morris got on his cell phone and called for the stick. In a few moments, his dad arrived in his truck and gave him his stick. Off he went to the outdoor ice rink to play with his friends. All good.
I have been here for exactly a week. Our plane will be leaving at 3:55pm, and I’ll be back in regular Southern Ontario life again. This has been a special week for me. We missed a year coming to Webequie, due to lack of funds. I was heartbroken. I personally feel that Webequie is a second home to me. Kids like the little guy in the skates have grown up over the years. Two of them are on the ice road as I write this, on their “Healing Journey Home” walk from Thunder Bay’s Regional Hospital to Webequie’s Health Centre.
Eric and family members are raising awareness of the dire conditions that exist in health institutions in First Nations. Not just dire. Deadly. They are dragging an oxygen tank 1,000 kilometres to mourn the loss of their aunt/mother due to lack of medical resources in their own community. They should be arriving here just days after we take off. Maybe we’ll see them from the plane, down on the river road. The tracks they leave will surely indicate the drag of a heavy toboggan, but light hearts as they achieve this hugely symbolic gesture. The people at the still ongoing Powwow dance and pray for them.
Time takes on a rubbery consistency here. It slips by so fast, yet, when you stand and look at the river, it is ice hard. The same rink that was there in 2007 is here, attracting kids to its -30C wooden enclosure, lit with possibly the only outdoor lights in Webequie. Northern lights dance overhead, and under flying snow or sunshine, the kids are there, practicing, skating, socializing.
After dark, the kids literally run (or skate) in packs, yelling and screaming. I love it. I love it! Laura, one of my DAREarts mates, comments, “I don’t remember kids being out in the dark like this when I was a kid.” And I guess, in big cities, that wouldn’t be possible. I commented, “…and cue the kids,” as if we were in a movie about days gone by. Webequie is indeed a place where the rink is the safest place to play. But it’s also a place where bullying thrives. With sometimes deadly consequences. But that’s another story…
Let’s talk about the light here. As it happens, there is a Powwow going on. It’s a beautiful day. Last night was the triumphant finish to a four-day DAREarts workshop in which the high school students created a dance (with Laura MacKinnon) to a song they wrote (with Glenn Marais) with of their painted goalie masks (with yours truly) to the Powwow audience. The Drummers, community members, tourists (a documentary crew) watched these brave youths perform. Moments before, they were struck with stage fright but they forged on and did an amazing performance, making their community proud.
(On a side note, the Old Man Bear Drummers were led by Bob Wabasse and younger boys were drumming. The original drummers, Eric, Norm and Leslie, were all on the ice road. It was great to see the young drummers picking up the drumsticks and singing their hearts out during the Powwow.)
Every day, over twenty students came to school and worked hard. Every night, after school, they came and worked on the guitar lessons or their projects, painting, writing and dancing in a tiny portable. The guitars are the seeds of a guitar club, thanks to TD’s MusiCounts grant and Glenn Marais’ lessons. The lessons will continue with the help of local teachers. Glenn will keep in touch with the teachers and students with touch up lessons, tabs, exercises and songs.
One young man, Preston, came in every night and practiced until his fingers bled. He worked his fingers to find the chords and didn’t say a word. The thoughtfulness behind the goalie masks was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the dichotomy of ideas that somehow fused together as art. The personal sharing that these youth put forward. Love for family, land and culture came through strong and clear. The idea of hockey being rooted in Indigenous ground appealed to them, and they illustrated that with a positive attitude.
“Take a stand, try not to break
Every goal you make is a stand you’ll take
The only way to score is to take a chance
It’s a part of our lives, this sacred dance
That’s in our hearts, and in our pride, our history, that’s deep inside
So hear our song, we never give up
This game we play, it’s like the game of life
When we stand together,
We are one”
Laura and the dancers forged a beautiful moment in the choreography that sticks in my mind today. On the line, “It’s like the game of life,” they raised their sticks in a salute to the sky. That pretty much summed up the way they responded to the workshop; their own discipline, their perseverance and the challenge to present it not only to a gathering that included outsiders. This was empowering to them and the community.
Along with them, I “Stand alone with amazing.”
By Cathy Elliott, DAREarts First Roots Aboriginal Program Associate