Feathers of Hope

I attended the Feathers of Hope Youth forum yesterday as a panelist where I accepted a role as a champion advocate, one I am looking forward to, in which I can learn just as much from the young ones as they might learn from me. I met various Anishinaabe youth from Six Nations, Kettle Point, Walpole Island, Moose Factory, Pic River, Fort Severn, Fort Hope, Naicatchewenin, Whitefish Bay, Shoal Lake and various other Northern and Southern communities, it was to say the least a gathering of Nations, a gathering of the most important kind, of young vibrant leaders who will lead our Nation in the coming years.

I watched a young man from Big Trout Lake present himself to the audience in a ribbon shirt, hair tied back, carrying a beautiful smile followed by a powerful speech in his Oji-Cree language, expressing to the audience that his elders taught him to speak in the language and to keep it strong, a teaching he obviously endorses and practices. I watched groups present their message through music, poems, skits and some through tears, reliving by retelling their personal hardships of living on the reserve.

I watched a young man from Walpole Island sing a song with his hand drum, a beautiful young voice that knows no other, than to be optimistic about the future. He communicated to the audience the world in his view and the changes that need to be made, he did so with a perfect assembly of words and charisma. His message was powerful, concise and to the point as it brought many in the audience to tears.

It was a powerful and moving experience to have these young people plead to us the principles of leadership as they see them. It was a grassroots message delivered by grassroots advocates. I say grassroots because these kids are living it, they are slopping the pails, so to speak, they are enduring the hardships of living on the reserve and they are overcoming obstacles everyday most will never understand. This makes them stronger and louder, a voice that will not go unheard.

I look forward to seeing what becomes of these young loud spirits, anxious to make a difference, unknowing that they already made a difference in mine. I know that many of these young people will go on to become professionals in different fields and many will become chiefs, grand-chiefs, MPP’s, MP’s and maybe even Prime Minister. I believe the panel I sat on shared the common understanding that it is our duty to get them there, by ensuring that we fight today for the things they will need tomorrow. If the Youth I met yesterday is an indication of today and tomorrow, than I can say with confidence that our future is bright and optimistic.

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A veteran remembered. My Mishoom…

As I do every night, I called my sons last night and the young one who is 8 years old asked me, dad who will you remember tomorrow? I said I will remember all of our veterans but I will mostly remember Matthew Sinclair from Brokenhead First Nation in Manitoba, my Mishoom. I said to him, your great grandpa was a tough Ojibway man whom fought with the Winnipeg Grenadiers (also known as NS Highlanders) in World War II. I explained to him that he carries the traits of Matthew, that in his blood is the will to fight and survive and that he should be proud that his papa fought for his freedom. I said so when people ask you if someone in your family fought in war, you tell them about your papa.

It got me thinking about my relationship with him and our cherished memories and I can recall one specific night. I spent my life on the outdoor rinks as a child, literally spent my life on them and one time he was visiting from Manitoba and he decided he would come and watch me play at the rink. The snow was falling lightly on a warm winter evening. He stood at the boards as I showed off my skills for him and he smiled continuously. I can remember showing him how strong my backwards skating and backhand was, he says you are great at things that require you to do it backwards. My backwards grandson.

At one point he asked if I would sit with him in the snowbank just on the outside of the rink and I thought he was crazy, but I did. We both sat down and he put his arm around me and we just looked up at the stars. I was wondering where the heck the snow was coming from? if the skies were so clear, a question I asked him. He asked me to be quiet as we sat there in silence for a while and of course I kept asking him questions and he kept telling me to be quiet. Finally, I listened and we sat quietly, both looking up at an orange sky and a handful of stars as big snowflakes fell from nowhere that I could see, maybe they were coming from the heavens I thought.

In hindsight, I know now why he wanted to sit there with his grandson. I know why his smile was the biggest I ever saw when I showed off my hockey skills for him. I know why he smiled when I showed him my book of stories, one of my hundreds of books filled with stories that I carried around with me as a child containing some of the wildest stories from a wild imagination. He smiled because he was grateful that he was where he was. He smiled because he survived some of life’s greatest tragedies and was given the chance to see his grandson, his descendant, excel at things in life that would lead to success.

That would be the last time we would enjoy each other’s company before he left us, returning to the heavens from which the snow fell from that night. As I have grown to understand life a bit more today than I did yesterday, I realize that he lived a difficult life as a soldier, a veteran and an Indian. Today, I remember my Grandfather, my Mishoom, my hero and my biggest fan. But I honor him every day, remembering to do things bigger than I ever dreamed, which was his expectation of me. So in saying that, I am grateful to have had a Mishoom who loved me so much, one I loved in return. One that to this day, I miss and remember. Matthew Sinclair, a hero to Canada, a savior to me…

Observations about Thunder Bay’s vote…

Thunder Bay voted last night and democracy allowed us to speak and I made some observations. First, although Tamara Johnson didn’t get elected she received roughly 7% (10,000 votes) of the vote. I was a bit disappointed, but surprised, not really. I love Thunder Bay, but I know that many people carry the hate, racism and prejudice towards my people that she does and she was and is the epitome of these values. We have to thank her for the fact that we all have a task, there are at least 10 000 people in this City who need a lot of Education about who we are, where we have been and most important, where we are going.

For those who voted for her, they can start with a little bit of Education about us, by learning a little bit about myself. I have an Education; this was not free, as I continue to pay off a large student debt. I pay taxes on my home, my salary and I do not get free dental care, my benefits just informed that I will have to pay half of the recent dental work I had done, yes we go to the dentist. I speak and write English extremely well, but analyze it even better, maybe even better than most, but I don’t use it to spread hate, I much prefer to use it to educate and to provide a life for my family.

A little bit about our people, we are a beautiful culture that has a love for the land like no other, the protection and preservation of it can be learned from many of our elders who at this moment are passing it onto our youth, this will have importance in the future, trust me. The population of Anishinaabe people in this City is growing and will increase dramatically, many coming from the North and surrounding communities and I will say again this is a fact, so trust me. Let me tell you why the Anishinaabe population is increasing, education and employment, both the former and latter will not only create awareness, but empowerment to a generation much different than yesterday or today.

I voted for Keith Hobbs because I believe he sees this and I believe he has the foresight and vision to build those bridges between Native and non-Native, crucial, because we will soon have the power to vote City councillors and mayors into power. If I could speak to Miss Johnson, I would ask her why she has such a dislike for our people or myself and family as I don’t hate or dislike her, but rather wish she could take the time to educate herself and her supporters.

I believe that if she accepted an offer to come sit with my sons and I along the lakes and shores of our traditional territory to take in the fresh air provided to our Ancestors for thousands of years, her views might change. They might change if she took the time to listen to my sons discuss their dreams about playing in the NHL, but they would definitely change if she listened to them talk about their love for Thunder Bay and for their people. She would see that the spread of racism and hate, attempts to strip my sons of their pride of who they are and it attempts to change their views on their love for Thunder Bay.

Finally, I would say to Miss Johnson or her supporters that we not just a good group of people, but we are a very humorous and loving people, thus, I would ask her to be my keemooch (just kidding). So in the future let us make 10 000 votes for racism water under the bridge as we leave those votes behind and look forward. A united city is in view, lets just build some bridges to get there.

A citizen of Thunder Bay.

A final tribute to Uncle Bob, but not really…

As I left for work this morning I looked up at the night sky, a moon surrounded by stars, sitting upon a cool and crisp autumn morning. A morning like many before, like more to come I am sure, one in which I thought of my Uncle Bob. I thought of his younger years, a hunter, trapper and fisherman, opening the doors to the mysteries of our North, blazing trails for those who dared to follow. A young man who learned to speak the language of the land, whom learned to listen to the spirits within it and appreciate the beauty of the unforgiving, desolate and loneliness of our home, terms often used to describe the Hudson lowlands.

I thought of the day we sat beside the Sachigo River, our traditional territory. It was mid-afternoon and land was quiet, whiskey jacks jumped from tree to tree and sturgeon splashed every now and again. We sat on old stumps overlooking the river, like kings of the banks, although the giant bull moose close by held that title, as he would raise his binoculars every once in a while, hoping to see a curious one. He says Derek, I used to look after your father here when he was just a baby. Your kokum would make me watch him as she went out on the land and he would cry, so I would shove the bottle in his mouth and say ahhhh shut up, stop crying!

He says I was about 30 when your father was taken from us by the Government, to learn the ways of the Church, where he would lose his connection with the land, in turn the connection to his spirit, in which he could no longer speak his language, hunt, fish or trap, as he came back to us a useless Indian. Even worse, he was very angry and your mishoom and I had to take him out on the land to teach him everything he knows now, including the language.

It was a beautiful thing to see the day he packed his boat and left by himself to wander the never-ending maze of rivers, God provided for us. He was gone for days as our mother began to worry about her baby boy, but when he returned he did so with a successful hunt and trap, providing an abundance of meat, furs and stories. He provided these stories in the language and it brought tears to the eyes of our parents, it brought tears to myself also.

As I listened, he sat quietly and remembered those days. He said Derek, if you are going to succeed in this world, you are going to have to learn to walk in two worlds. You are going to have to be dependent on yourself and no one else, therefore, never work in which you are waiting for a pay cheque from the Government, work so that people are paying you for your skills. He said that your father would not have had the successes he did if we didn’t teach him the value of where he comes from, so ensure that you learn the traditional practices of where you come from also.

That evening we shot a moose just up the Swan River, a river branching off the main river that our home is situated on and when we cleaned him he took a piece of raw meat off the moose and said eat it. From now on, when you kill a moose you eat a raw piece of meat from it. When I told my dad, he said he’s crazy that Uncle Bob, but follow his instructions because he knows what he is talking about. Following Bob’s advice about providing for myself using my skills, I decided to write my law school admissions test to get into law school that year as I figured being a lawyer was a career where I would not be dependent on the Government, but rather dependent on my skills.

This was the impact my Uncle Bob left on my life, a belief that the ability to walk in two worlds and being dependent on yourself is the key to success. This specific memory of him I see now was a teaching, in which we need to remember that our traditional practices on the land are just as important if not more, than the lives we lead off of it. Thus, the continuation of walking in two worlds is ongoing for myself, my sons and our people and although his journey in this life has ended, I think his teaching will form the foundation to the re-birth of a Nation, much like the re-birth he provided to my father.

Although he was crazy, he was also loving, compassionate and smart and he had a love for his people, his family and his land. A visit to our traditional lands is where you might feel that love as his spirit roams the rivers and high banks of our home, where after his passing he joined the spirits of our loved ones, those he missed all those years but never really stopped communicating with. As I know now, he was not alone out there, nor will I be when I continue to maintain and use our homelands as he would have wanted me to, by teaching the ways of our Ancestors to the next generation, my sons. I am off to another hunt, but actually a visit to the land, like medicine to our people, a valuable teaching by him I will not forget. Thank You Uncle Bob, gone but not forgotten…

Daniel Levac. A Young Anishinaabe Brother gone too soon…

I ran into Chief Donny Morris last night and he says hello there Mr. Fox, I enjoy reading your articles in Wawatay, I look forward to seeing them now he says, so keep it up. His view was that he preferred to read a column from someone who comes from where he does, a perspective from a heartbeat consistent with that of our Nation. In that regard, I shall keep on writing, although I have been very busy at work and having difficulties finding time for it as of late. It seems that now is a better time than ever to write something.

Today, my heart is with the recent tragedy that took place at Silvercity movie theatre in Thunder Bay. I think of the young life lost, an Anishinaabe brother who was soon finding his stride if he hadn’t already. A young man with dreams of a higher Education, owning a nice home and providing for his family. A young man whom wanted to say that he overcame obstacles and defeated some of life’s greatest challenges, while reminiscing about the old days with his children and telling them many stories. Stories filled with hidden teachings not understood to them at the time.

I never met Daniel Levac, but judging from his pictures he was a young man driven by optimism and a charming smile. He was from Sachigo Lake, another one of our Northern communities surrounded by beautiful colors and sounds, a reason for his smile. It is fair to say that Daniel carried with him a love for his land and people, like all his people do. It is also fair to say that his passion for success came from his desire and need to provide for and protect his people the best way he knew how, which required him to leave home.

His people walked the Northern lands for hundreds and thousands of years, thus, leaving those lands must have been difficult. Unfortunately, his walk will continue in the next life, not given a chance to walk long in this one. However, his last steps in this world will not be his last, as the work he dreamed of achieving will continue, carried on by his fellow Northern brothers and sisters.

Daniel, like myself, believed that one day his children could grow up in Thunder Bay having received a good Education and taught the fundamental values of success. He believed in building bridges with one another, bridges that would one day connect all perspectives, races, nationalities and ideas, leading to a collective, united and stronger city. The fundamental reason for doing so, to leave something better for his children and grand-children.

I will attend his memorial today and remember a man I never got to meet, but wish I had, so I could say to him that his generation inspires me to be better so that they might follow, because one day my son’s will follow their lead. Today is not a day to voice opinions to which no solutions are offered, it is not a day to acknowledge ignorance, misinformation or hate. Today is a day to remember a beautiful smile and helpful heart, who used his sense of humor to make friends with people of all ages, including his teachers and mentors.

Daniel Levac, an Anishinaabe doctor, lawyer, teacher or our next Grand-Chief, who left us too soon, should cause us to realize that something is wrong with the status quo and that continued negativity will only burn the bridges that form positive relationships with one another. Rest in Peace Daniel son, a nickname I surely would have gave him if we met.

To my Eabametoong Brothers of Bushtown…

To the Northeast of Thunder Bay, somewhere between here and the shores of Hudson Bay lies a quiet, desolate, yet majestic and scenic piece of land. It, like many of the communities and trap lines in the North sits between a bed of rivers, lakes, swamps and muskeg. Eabametoong, also known as Fort Hope First Nation is another treasure of Canada’s landscape I recently got to visit for my first time.

For many years I played hockey against the Atlookan and O’Keese boys, although rivals on the ice, we always remained good friends off of it, a respect for one another and relationship similar to that of brothers. After my meetings were done, which was my purpose for being there, my brothers from another mother took the time to gather up their gear, fuel up their boats and drive me to their traditional territory of Bushtown, hoping to see a moose along the way.

When we arrived at Bushtown it was through a narrow river that had the shape of an S and to both sides of me were tall weeds, a perfect place for moose to feed and they have on more than one occasion, according to my driver, Kurt Atlookan. He says to me, last year Leo (his brother) and him missed a huge bull there as he was crossing. He laughed as he shook his head, I could tell he was thinking how the hell did I miss that moose?! Any hunter could share a similar story of the one that got away.

Bushtown is historic in all of its elements with many of its log cabins still standing and teepee shaped smokers used for smoking moose meat and fish and if your senses are in tune with the land you could almost see the families gathered around the fire, the smell of campfire bannock as they sing songs of prayer asking for safety of their hunters and thanking the creator for the land beneath them, while appreciating the fresh air and water around them.

A pair of old skates hang from the tree and Derek Atlookan says to me those are my skates and this river is where we played hockey everyday. The Atlookans you see are very good hockey players, besides hunting and fishing, hockey is the thing they most love to do. Many battles have been won and lost against them on the ice, but from those battles and rivalries, friendships were formed, which brought me to their land that day and an excitement from all of us that I was visiting a place so sacred to them.

Kurt takes me around the cabins telling me stories of their childhood, one of how they used to jump through the fires and get in trouble by their parents, or the day his uncles and father went hunting taking all the rifles with them while moose walked into their camp and all they could do is sit and watch them play. He told me about the previous winter, in which two moose crossed the river when they all jumped on the skidoo and his brother Leo jumped in the sled usually attached to the back of it. However, the sled was not attached this time and by the time they realized he was not on it they were halfway to the moose, so their brother Leo missed out on that one. Kurt says to me he was still sitting in it ready to go when they came back, he chuckled looking up in the sky, realizing this will be a story told for many years.

Bushtown is the source of many of these stories, a place where many laughs and memories were created and shared, a place of many cups of tea, somewhere they could sit by the fire every fall season and overlook the bays surrounding them to see if the moose had come out to provide meat for them or hunt geese every spring or fish for an abundance of walleye every summer. Kurt continues to tell me many stories in his Oji-Cree dialect, a beautiful tone of humor and language unique to his people and land. His stories were many, the laughs many more, ones that are his to share with whom he chooses, grateful he chose to share them with me that day.

As I sat and watched the brothers build another log cabin with a mixture of hockey, hunting and Northern humor, in which one made fun of the other, our laughs never stopped; a relationship with each other and the land that is similar, almost identical to that of my family, jokes sometimes directed at me at my expense, in which I was reassured of why I love my people so much.

My Atlookan brothers love the land just as much as any person in the North does and in them I could see the warrior traits of their Ancestors, graceful smiles and offers of friendship, but fierce protectors of their land, which gave me the sense that the future our people and land is in good hands as they look to me provide protection using my legal knowledge and I look to them to provide protection in traditional knowledge. A good working relationship I say. An invitation to come moose hunting for a long weekend has been extended to me, one I will not pass up. Until then, take care Bushtown brothers….

A last farewell to my Uncle…

I am here in Big Trout Lake listening to the radio, Oji-Cree hymns followed by the sounds of the same dialect. A man giving the morning news every now and again, the main headline being a visit from Princess Sophia (daughter-in-law to the Queen), the Governor General and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. I think they heard that the moose-hunting season in our territories is set to begin or they just want to see the beauty of our land and the people in it. Actually, I think it has something to do with the adhesion to the treaty being signed here, one that was signed by my great grandfather, who was the Chief at the time.

My family and I are here for a different reason, a final dinner with my Uncle Bob whom many years ago walked the Northern land of all seasons. A man, whose adventures exist in our land like time capsules waiting to be opened, adventures that although grueling, lonely and hard at times, remain in the North where they belong. The sights and sounds he heard were many; the different forms of wildlife were his teachings, the rocks beneath the waters his grandfathers, as his messengers circled the skies often, overlooking the territories like guards, while carrying his prayers to the heavens above.

When I visited with him last night I could see in his eyes that he accepted what is to come as his grandchildren shook his hand, hugged him and planted kisses on his forehead. Standing before him was a generation being raised to take over his teachings, a generation empowered with Education and good parenting, a reason he couldn’t stop smiling I suppose. His body appeared frail and weak and gone is the days of hauling his kill from the most impossible of places or checking his many traps in the frigid cold, how he did so with such ease keeps me in awe.

Remaining is the strength of his spirit existent in his smile, as he anxiously awaits his return to the heavens, leaving behind a life blessed with memories and teachings, stories that will be told by his descendants, stories told through tears, songs and words, most often by the campfires alongside our rivers, beneath the dancing lights and stars. I don’t see today as our last dinner, but rather, a farewell or see you again, in which I will wish him well on his journey.

We were leaving Thunder Bay yesterday and as we got above the clouds we could see the sun on the horizon. It lit up the cloud ceiling which at that point became a cloud floor and it appeared as if a trail was leading to the sun. My 8-year old says hey dad, is this heaven? I asked what made him think that and he said because I think this is what it looks like. I told him, I think so son, I think you are right, so yes, I think this is heaven.

The only thing missing I told him was the abundance of wildlife sitting on the high banks of our rivers, a heaven similar to that of our traditional lands. Heaven my boy will look something similar to the trap line you will learn to care for so that your children and grandchildren can use it as you did. He said oh, too young to understand, but will learn to as he ages.

So I suppose it is time to wrap this up and prepare for our last dinner. The sun is rising beautifully in Big Trout Lake today. I think it will be a good day as I say farewell to a great hunter, a better mentor and an amazing grandfather. A beautiful man, who is a father, an uncle, a teacher, provider and protector, a man who will be missed but not forgotten, whose teachings will be carried forever from generation to generation.

A mother of the land soon gone….

I got a message from my Chief yesterday saying that her mom is really sick and that I should go see her because she does not have long. She told me that she asked about me and talked about me a lot. In my pre-teen years my grandparents had left my home community as they were getting old so they had moved to the City to be better cared for. Therefore, I had nowhere to stay but wanted to work and she took me in for the summer.

Those memories are strong because she cared for me when she didn’t have to and gave me a place to stay, cooked me breakfast, lunch and dinner and even looked for us at night. We always wanted to stay out late at night as most kids that age do, I was just entering high school so one can imagine what we were getting into. As it got late we could see a flash light jumping around the community, lighting up the best hiding spots it seemed, I think it may have lit up the skies too.

There was no hiding from that light or she, when it was time to come home it was time. She cared so much for us that she didn’t want us to be out late and she wanted to ensure we got a good night’s rest for the next day of work. It was a time that racism, prejudice and other forms of discrimination were introduced into my life, which was followed by confusion and many questions unanswered at the time, so her gentle presence was a necessary one.

She represented, as she does today, a symbol of love and compassion, a role model in which the people of our community strive to be. She wore an effortless smile and carried with her a big heart, a natural parent that never stopped being one and I knew then as I do now that if the world was full of people like her, it would be a better place. She is a great grand-mother, grandmother and mother to many, but that summer she was a mother to me and a positive memory soothing to my mind, heart and spirit.

I will go see her today and tell her that my heart is stronger because of her and that the community she will soon be leaving is also stronger and carries with it traces of her love and compassion. I will ask her to say hi to my grandparents, my brother and the many Ancestors who left as she soon will. Finally, I will promise to her that I will fight for and protect the land she could never leave. Her home was her community and her family were the people in it. A mother to me she was, a role model she will forever be. 

Another passing and more questions unanswered. Tina Fontaine the latest victim…

I don’t have a daughter, but it is my hope to one day have her, a beautiful little Anishinaabe girl and it often sounds crazy to think out loud of how she might look or act, but think I do and to see her is often. Envisioned is a girl who speaks the Anishinaabe language, carrying with her a source of pride instilled from years of great parenthood, one of love and respect for herself and those around her.

Education will be at the forefront of her being, a direction led by an intuition to attain something that pushes her to her limits, not to grasp or reach for the stars but to grab them and create some more. A daddy’s girl who will know the teachings of the land, taught to her by her brothers, who learned from me the lessons written in the scriptures of our family traditions. Her smile will blossom each day into something more than it was yesterday, like a flower of new seasons she will learn to grow, adapt and then bring change and beauty to her world. Every father, mother and parent thinks like this of their little girl I am sure, my feelings will be no different. 

So I thought of the little girl today as I read about another one of my young sisters murdered who was found floating in a body bag, my prayers go out to her parents, friends and family. I am sure she brought the world a lot of laughs, smiles and a sense of warmth; the kind that should open the hearts of those with the power to investigate a death similar to many before her and the many more that will follow should an issue in need of being one continues to be shelved. I didn’t know this young girl, except that she was from Sagkeeng and that she walked a world difficult for her people and her gender, a combination of both, even more difficult.

Unfortunately, she found out the hard way how difficult as she became another statistic, added to a long list of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, one that grows as positive action by a Government with a mandate to protect its people doesn’t. Tonight I laid down some tobacco for her and all I know from the news is that she was an Anishinaabe child and I imagine she was a young girl with dreams, ones found in the stars as I looked up at them tonight, offering her a prayer. It is my hope that her passing brings notice and a sense of urgency to those with the power to investigate and brings this issue from the back shelf to the front table, and starts an inquiry to dig deeper.  Then maybe, the root causes to what it clearly becoming an epidemic will be discovered.

Our Beloved Bushmen…

The clouds were sitting above the horizon this morning watching the sun come up, an orange skyline and orange clouds. I will never forget the first time I heard the saying, sun in the morning, fisherman’s warning, she’s going to rain today. My father said it as we packed up our freighter canoes and rain it did, all day, not your typical rain either, but a hard drizzle and it was cold as we traveled the Severn River, there was nothing I could do except bundle up in the front and watch my father smile in harmony with something crazy, he had something I didn’t, still don’t.

Those bushmen are something else whom all carry that something, my brother had it and my good friend Thomas Beardy has it, which made me think of Edith C Fiddler and their son Neil, a fellow comrade on the ice who left us too soon, who also had it. I thought of them this weekend as they remembered a hockey player, a hunter, trapper and fisherman. He was a lover of the land and all it had to offer, he played in a land of giants and smiled through its haunting wonders, which showed he knew the answers to the many mysteries out there, ones that remain unrevealed that only the blessed will see, a gift of our protectors, to which Neil was one.

Neil and my brother were blessed with a knowledge of their surroundings, gained through their love and need to be floating amongst the waters of our rivers. Many of us only find comfort drifting with a current, they found comfort paddling against it and in the elements that give the North a reputation of being desolate, cold and unforgiving. The strange thing about Neil and Darryl is that the land did not take their life, but gave it. The reasons for their passing to the spirit world was far from social factors non-existent in the wild to which they were born and belonged.

They were not wards of the land, but kings, as they will remain. We used to call Neil “crazy legs” on the ice because he would just giver. The energy in his body came from his spirit that continues in the land, like my brother, like my Ancestors, their strength and presence remains on the lakes and rivers, a presence we are unable to explain but one we acknowledge by carrying on their desire to protect and cultivate its uses, to which there are many used in healing, sustenance and prayer.

I hope that I do not ever have to feel the loss of a son, a cycle in life that seems illogical and wrong as parents should never bear the burden of seeing their baby leave this world before they do. But as one who has experienced the other side, the right to cross over is a blessing earned, a purpose fulfilled, in which we should celebrate the time we had with what we now know was an Angel in disguise, who left within us an impression and remembrance to carry on their message.

The message left from our hunters is one of a love for life, but more importantly, a love for our land, no difference between the two for our Bushmen. A promise to protect it and use it as they did but try to find the answers to the mysteries beneath the waters, maybe than we will have fulfilled our purpose as they did and earn the right to allow others to carry on our message, a lifelong goal for most of us. Neil and Darryl, never forgotten, always remembered and honored, their songs form the rainbows in our skies, a reason I am always looking for the end, not for a pot of gold, but so I can see them dancing.

As a summer nears its end and Autumn falls from the skies driven by the North winds, I remember to honor the memory of our hunters by hunting as they did. My sons will also leave soon and I will hug them, hold them and appreciate that today they are healthy and I will entertain their questions about their homelands as they look forward to the days we will roam the North together. They will learn as I did that hunting was never a sport, but a prayer in which we connect with our Bushmen, especially those who have left physically, but remain spiritually, watching us and teasing us, but always loving us. They will learn to seek the answers to the land and maybe they will learn to laugh and enjoy its gifts, however cold, harsh and unforgiving, just as their Uncle Neil and Darryl did, Ancestors they will use as inspiration to succeed then dream and write about as I do.