Penasi Golf Tournament for my Brother Darryl…

Today we celebrate the life of Darryl Fox. It has been 11 years since he left us and I can still see his gentle smile and hear his quiet demeanor. He walked a path that was content with giving help to others through lending hands, an unconditional love natural to him, that most work a lifetime to attain, a compassion usually learned and developed over time. An avid hunter, fisher, golfer and lover of animals. He carried with him many stories of the land told through humor, memories revealed through practice of the traditions he left with us to carry on.

A brother gone whose spirit remains, existent in little ones like my son Kairn who cares for animals the same way he did and my other son Darryl Jr., who creates smiles through his witty sense of humor. Much like our trap line in the North they miss, but haven’t been to, but feel they have, they miss their uncle who hasn’t physically cared for them, but both feel he has. An amazing concept of our Ancestors dancing as spirits from generation to generation, a connection and relationship to which they will live with throughout their life bringing meaning to honoring their Ancestors.

As the pain matures and tears turn to smiles and loss turns to celebration, we accept that cancer and disease is a part of life existent for reasons we don’t understand, but lessons are taught that life is a gift to be opened each day, something our loved ones gone physically but here spiritually, would want us to do. A gift and life lesson to appreciate that the world wakes up every day with a different plan, but the same optimism as we should.

In saying that, the sun is up and I will honor my brother’s memory by not just playing golf, but sharing a day with family and friends while envisioning him hunting, trapping and fishing on the muddy banks and shores of our heavens with an endless playlist of Coldplay and Goo Goo Dolls, his all-time favorite tunes. Our loved ones are never gone or forgotten but always remembered and honored and I see him in my sons every day, their growth is from the push of his spirit, a love found within them that will express itself over time.

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A Requested Blog About my Son. One read by him Years from Now…

My 10-year old son saw my article on CBC and read it. He asked if I would write about him. So this is to you my boy. You were born during my first year of University, technically my 2nd, but the year prior I had just lost your uncle, my brother, a good man; and I would be content to say the year was a waste. The loss of a loved one is never easy because the human condition is structured in such a way we attach to others, spiritually. You will find this with the love you have for your mother, brothers, sisters, the woman you one day marry, your children and of course your old man, but remember those who find that love for their people make great leaders.

The loss of that attachment is a painful one, an empty space attempts to fill the void of the loved one whom once stood before you and made you smile, laugh and helped you dance around your greatest fears, a dancing partner gone, existent somewhere between a memory and prayer, teasing you in your dreams. An unfortunate but necessary part of life, a reason to appreciate today and those in it because life has a funny way of making you think that once you have a grip on it, you actually don’t.

This was the way my life was when I lost my brother and I wandered aimlessly, attempting to avoid the obstacles rather than defeat them, then your mother informed me you were on your way. I was told that Anishinaabe children choose their parents and that I should feel blessed and I did. I pictured you a youthful, playful and somewhat rambunctious spirit anxiously waiting to meet his father, confident he made the right choice.

You were due on a cold Winnipeg night, the roads I travelled to get to you were slick with ice and the Arctic winds from Churchill made their way through the prairies bouncing off the homes like waves hitting rocks. If you ever watch waves collide against rocks or a drift of wind so cold in its power, you will see the power of Mother Nature, sometimes mean, taking lives when she wants, many lives lost in those winds appearing deceitfully graceful.

At that moment I would pray to her and ask her to get you here safely and I made a life long promise to her that I would protect you. A promise I have kept so far, one that did not come for free as she wanted something in return. You see my boy, my relationship with her is now a rocky one at best, a past we share in which I went against her wishes of returning me home.

A time you may remember when I was caught between two worlds, fighting to remain and walk this world with you, at least until you didn’t need my guidance anymore. This story I will share with you another time, a time when you can understand the concept of life and death, both of which I have experienced and the latter experience carrying with it a reason I have yet to discover, one that will reveal itself in time, we call those teachings.

When you arrived in our world you were tiny, with a full head of thick black hair, a beautiful trait making you unique to me and dark brown skin that would determine where you came from, a land of beautiful songs, a drum beat heard in the womb, one needed to feed the air into your lungs. Your dimples were the first I saw, which helped turn a nice smile into a beautiful one, dimples that your wife will love and admire because her children will carry the same.

The giggles and cries were one of the same, a language you spoke we didn’t understand, only understood in the world to which you came from, the learning of our language would take you years. Our first summer was spent together and I stayed home with you, much like a mother would I fed you and rocked you to sleep while singing to you. I sung you little lullaby’s and held you, just a little bundle in my arms and the reason for everything amounted to those moments, the reason for my hurt and loss was for the right to be your father.

At the age of 10 you and I have endured more than most fathers and sons have because much like I, you almost had to experience the loss of someone you were attached to, you would have been left with a lifelong void, something you didn’t deserve. So I am grateful we are here together as we embark on this journey, one that includes my career and your upbringing in a generation that is changing the social fabric of our Nation, one to which you will be a fundamental building block, one to which you will succeed and the reason for your success will be the love from those who love you most.

You and I were united when you granted me the honor of being your father and our only duty is to make this work, give each other guidance, love, companionship which in turn will lead to an abundance of treasures on a journey in which we search for truth and try to understand principles that can right the wrongs or correct infractions against a Nation to which we were born.

Thus, our strongest bond is part of a larger brotherhood, in which a tradition of teachings guide Anishinaabe values that will help us stand proud and one day when we float toward the sunset on the Sachigo River, our traditional land; we will discuss the accomplishments and obstacles conquered and we will do it as father and son, an attachment of spirits never broken, continued in all worlds, not just this one.

 

Oh Sally Girl…

You will never believe this but I fell in love with a cat, once a kitten, just a tiny spirit that walked tiny footsteps, footsteps unafraid, ready to take on the world, a lack of fear which may have caused her eventual exit to the world that wanted her back, understandable.

Our relationship began when she came home, just a tiny kitten. She wanted to sleep with me but her nails were too sharp and her cries were too loud. I put her outside my door and locked it when she managed to sneak around to the loft stairs, an alternative entrance to our bedroom and leapt a determined leap, from a height that could have killed her. I gave in and let her sleep with me, a tiny bundle in my arms and we were connected, a connection so strong that she learned to carry the confrontational yet loving Anishinaabe spirit that I do, an extension of one another we became and still are.

Endless nights were spent together as I endured the toughest test of my life, the Bar Admission Exams to become a licenced lawyer. Sleeping by my feet and next to my notes, she would wait like a child waiting for her dad, the loving support in a partnership to which her love was needed. They say that the animal kingdom and its spirit world runs parallel to our dreams, spirits whom never fully enter our world, afraid to lose the unconditional love they give of never judging but supporting. Loving and supporting is all she did, all she knew and how she will be remembered.

Sally was her name and her time with us was short, but love was her gift and companionship was her strength. Just a cat she was not, a living being she was, with a home and people in it who loved her. Her presence will forever leave a tiny imprint on our hearts and when I see her again my brother Darryl will be holding her, saying sorry, I just needed my cat back.

North American Indigenous Games and the Power of Sport…

I left home at a young age, home being Bearskin Lake, Ontario. A playground for God’s children, a piece of land wedged between snake shaped rivers, deep lakes with mystery wandering its bottoms and a wildlife content with providing our stories. A place for the retiring mind where our dreams can rest, where a life will reach its end, a place I will return. It is the peak of my mountain in life, a mountain I will conquer having looked down on all my successes as I watch my final sunset and wish the best of luck to those beginning to ascend, those about to see what I saw but in a different light, a better one.

Like a child taken from his family, a part of me lost something when I was taken from my land, a way of life I will need to re-learn, however, I had gained a knowledge in sports that can be taught no other way except to play. I was given a chance to play a game I grew to love, a game that found a heartbeat within me, revitalizing a spirit of broken generations, a breath of fresh air found in the cold air and rinks I was immersed in.

Hockey was a resurrection, it was a teaching that taught me the feeling of pain, hurt, love, insecurity, confidence, adversity, teamwork, knowledge, toughness, discipline, dedication and hard work. Essentially, life lessons, valuable principles that built a foundation of success, no matter what I chose to do with it. It also allowed me to form friendships and bonds I would not have found elsewhere. It was a bridge between my world and that of others, a brotherhood needed to succeed as a team, family values needed to win.

I once played with a guy from Miramichi, New Brunswick who admitted that before he met me he didn’t like Indians and that I was the first one he met, his father was a lobster fisherman in the Burnt Church dispute. We became best friends and golfed almost everyday, but backed each other up on the ice more than once, I don’t know who was tougher between us, but I know we grew to love and respect each other, which in turn changed his outlook on my people, we still talk to this day.

I played with a guy from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, a red headed quiet fellow, who took me for dinner one night and admitted to me he was half native. I had no idea and he showed me his mom’s status card, a beautiful Plains Cree woman, smiling at me a painful smile, telling me stories through her son, a son who loved and missed her. Her status card he carried in his wallet all his life, looking at it daily, reminded of who he was, praying for strength to be proud, a prayer often unanswered, one he needed my help with. He is one of many I remember and always will from my journey.

The power of sport is like the power of prayer, it is like the power of the land, it is a seed planted in the heart and soul of those who engage, growing and expressing itself through the spirit of our children and our youth who will become leaders not just of tomorrow, but now. Sports, whether it be hockey, golf, baseball, basketball or swimming, is a lesson in growth, teamwork and overcoming adversity with hard-work, it is a necessary instrument in the development of a Nation, much like Education, it needs to be harnessed, encouraged and supported by all people of all ages, Native and Non-Native, those who believe in a better society and better country, one to be proud of.

So as I sit and listen to the many little warriors fighting for gold in Regina, Saskatchewan at the North American Indigenous Games, I sit with pride, knowing some Bearskin Lakers, Shoal Lakers, Treaty 9’ers and Treaty 3’ers compete, but most of all, proud because the fact that an entire generation of leaders are developing principles so valuable they cannot be explained, we can only wait to see the outcome. A generation that does not climb a mountain of life like I did, but builds it, that is called innovation. Our only duty as their guardians is to promote and encourage, then watch them flourish, a revolution of leaders developed from the power of sport.

Wab Kinew as National Chief: from the perspective of a Nordern Anishinaabe man…

The Assembly of First Nations meeting is taking place right now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the land of our Mikmaq and Maliseet brothers, its mig-ma not mic-mac I was always told when I lived with the people of Red Bank and Eel Ground in New Brunswick. Very nice people who took care of me during my time there and I found them very similar to the many First Nations from home, but also different in many ways. In saying that, what does it take to lead the different First Nations from the East to the West Coast? A tough proposition. A decision as to who will lead will be made in Winnipeg this December.

I have been reading articles about Wab Kinew running for National Chief and I am keeping a close eye on the results when they come and I am hopeful he is selected, a little bias yes but I will tell you why. Wab and I are the same age, we both originate from Treaty 3, myself from Shoal Lake, he from Onigaming, and our fathers are remembered as prominent leaders of their respective Nations who did so at the same time having worked together. My father was Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski-Nation, Treaty # 9, while Wab’s father served as Grand Chief of Grand Council Treaty # 3. I also became good friends and worked for Wab’s sister Diane Kelly during her term as Grand Chief of Treaty #3. Many connections through family, but the strongest connection being the land to which we come from, a vast territory of Anishinaabe people.

I stated yesterday that Wab running for National Chief is a good thing and let me say why. He represents a generation of change, a generation of next, in a world changing extremely fast. He represents my generation, one that is often forgotten by Government, a mistake. Residential school survivors but not quite, because we didn’t actually attend, just raised by parents who did, but survivors nonetheless who heard, experienced and lived the stories of the wrongs committed to the people we love. A generation that overcame huge obstacles to become educated, empowered and innovative thinkers, but rooted in our land, culture and traditions, an awesome combination, a scary one for the Government.

The criticism against Wab is that he does not have the experience, might be putting the cart before the horse . As I stated before, I don’t know enough about the 633 Chiefs and how they might vote to form a valid opinion. But in my personal opinion Wab running for leadership sets a precedent for young Anishinaabe to put their names forth to lead in different capacities. It gives them the courage, inspiration and confidence to do the same within their communities, regions or like Wab, at the National level, in both Native and non-Native politics. A success within itself.

So in saying that I wish the very best of luck to my friend Wab. The campaigning and election will be a daunting task, but the task of being a National leader is not an impossible one.  Our territories in the North are rich with resources, stories and teachings. If my readers have visited our communities in Treaty # 3 and Treaty # 9 they will see why Wab is well developed in the art of story-telling and communicating and why young lawyers like myself understand and study the laws that govern our people and lands, a skill needed to protect both the latter and former.

A national leader like Wab from a territory strong in Anishinaabe values, will bring them to the forefront of an organization in need of restoration and I believe he will be a positive change in one that needs it, a concept that our generation represents, positive change.

A Letter of Hunters

This love letter goes out to that special someone, a letter we wrote together beneath the stars and the full moon of the fall harvest, a letter of first experiences to which many more will come. It was the night of the first North wind, a night the North woke up as we sat and discussed the upcoming hunt. Our surroundings were simple and thoughtless, easy to get lost together and we did. A night that was cold as we slept together unprepared but safe in each other’s arms, protecting one another from the elements, using the warmth of our bodies when all I needed was the warmth of her heart, a love I prayed for all my life, a love that would teach me lessons about compassion, a love that would keep me grounded, a love I took for granted. 

As we woke to find the moose that was inviting us to experience the difficulties of practicing traditional sustenance I watched her get ready, eyes half open, body shivering, but excited and anxious to walk the land with her partner, a partner she also prayed for, a prayer that was answered, she was exactly where she was supposed to be. As we walked I followed her closely, making note of her tiny steps and tiny body, so little for a person with a heart so big walking amongst the giants of their land and spirits of our past, a commanding lead of natural confidence, a true bush girl with her bush man. 

The excitement on her face when the moose started talking to her brought good feelings as we both realized that we could share a life long passion of chasing those moments, seeking that high and trying to surpass them to which we will. Although the moose we hunted decided he would not provide us the many meals we wanted that day, he knowingly provided us with a bridge that would help build a relationship between two broken spirits and form a bond stronger than any other because of its origin, a relationship garnering strength from the natural wonders and powers of the land.

The letter was put away that day but to be continued and elaborated on with stories that will be told by our children, who will also be great hunters and story-tellers of the land, stories they will find in our letter. They will speak of the night their dad held their mom in his arms as they slept beneath what felt like a blanket of frost, no escape from the cold except in each other’s arms. They will say my mom loved my dad with what should have been a lot of wasted tears, but they weren’t, they were tears that my dad could not escape, tears he could feel when he looked up at the sky on those cold Autumn days. Days he would miss his partner if she was not there.

The letter is a letter of the land and to be continued for generations…

Keewatin- Tsilhqot’in- My Kokum and Her Land….

As a Lawyer I am often asked to provide legal analysis or opinions on the law, setting it out and providing my razor sharp in-depth view of what the law is and how it applies to the issue, the issue being the question that needs answering for my client. OK Razor sharp in-depth view, that is not humble at all, actually humble lawyer is what you call an oxymoron, I am kidding, humble is my foundation, well my Kokum’s foundation, I like to think she lives within me.

Recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the land have brought attention to the Anishinaabe landscape and in that respect, I would like to tell you without any legal jargon, which is how I like to try and keep my blogs, what the land means to me, an Anishinaabe lawyer from the North, a great hunter/fishermen amongst his people, a great navigator and traveller, whose stories will be told and bannock making contests will be named after. (Just Kidding about great hunter).

As you may have noticed the land is an obsession to me, an obsession not developed over time as I aged, but something within me, a passion and desire to need or want, a dream dreamt day and night, a thought that rises and sets with the sun. The land I believe is an extension of all of us, a place of being to which we came, soon to be ashes spread and once fires burning, but always a part, in our past, present and future.

Recently, I have discovered that I have always missed the land, since I was a child I dreamt of the fire, I could smell and taste the campfire bannock, see the charred kettles over boiling with tea, prepared geese on sticks rolling just above the flame and my kokum slicing meat like with the swift movements of an Artist painting, a butcher never looked so gentle.

Nighttime was my favourite, when the calm spirits entered the land, sung us lullaby’s and told us stories of the North, Kokum would sing with them and her voice echoed throughout the land, loons and wolves would join often and in that moment was magic, a connection between this world and that one, doors opened just for a moment, a frightening event, when the shadows started tip-toeing along the tree-line, gentle spirits are the dancing ones my kokum said, holding me in her arms.

So what is the land to me as an Anishinaabe, a Northern one? the land is my Kokum. Gentle, kind, caring, loving, but awesome in her power, a united front of grand-mothers who never left us but fulfilled their duties in this world by providing us with their teachings to protect a home they can be found, a home we can learn life’s greatest lessons. Land, Home, Kokum, no difference, but that is what my land means to me…

Shoal Lake My Home

I saw some pictures of the Shoal Lake event yesterday and read the articles and like a boy missing my father as a kid, I missed my home. Although my mom originates from the territory, it was not until I met the mother of my children that I got to re-build my relationship with the land. I would spend years fishing the lake for walleye, watching Eagles drop squirrels and snakes into the water, managing to break free from the grip of their claws, if that was not a will to live than I don’t know what was.

I used to see wolves dance along the treeline when I did my ice fishing hoping and praying I would leave some fish for them and I drove by bears on islands relaxing beneath Shoal Lake’s rainbows, basking in the sun and their imagination. I have broken down in my boat and drifted to islands where I got to listen to the teachings of my grandmother, teachings I wasn’t ready to understand, but visits I enjoyed.

I spent winter nights snowmobiling with my younger son who wasn’t even 5 yet, an age in which he was still connected to the world he came, a world just behind our trees. We would drive for hours in the dark having never thought of the fact we might break down and we would find a spot surrounded by trees, turn off the machine and sit back and look up at the stars feeling a blanket of warmth amongst the comforting shadows. The boy had no fear as he smiled up at the moon, laying back in his daddy’s arms, knowing only the words “I Love You Dad.”

Our favorite season was the fall season when we would hunt partridge, deer and fish a lake of changing seasons, surrounded by an awesome array of colors while we all prepared for the winter season. Wood cutting with my in-laws became my favourite past time because we would bring lunch and make it an outing, where laughs were shared and memories were made, memories that inspire me to write today. Shoal Lake is a place that is beautiful in all its seasons, a place that is beautiful on and off the water, an Anishinaabe piece of land full of Anishinaabe people with Anishinaabe values.

Shoal Lake my home. I miss you, from a Proud Shoal Laker. Ohhhhh shtaaaaa hey yaaaaa Neeeeee….

 

Gino Odjick My Hero

I read about Gino Odjick last week and his health problems, doctors say he has months to live, but that there is hope. I don’t know what Gino is going through today, I imagine he is wanting to reflect on a life lived many cannot comprehend. The stories I read were about his dealings with racism as an Indian kid growing up in a place where being Indian was frowned upon. Hockey was an outlet, an escape of some kind and I thought of this as I looked at the poster that has hung on my wall for 20 years, a poster of him in his Canucks gear, which was signed,  “To Derek, All the Best, Gino”.

If I could talk to Gino I would say that you were and still are my hero because when you were playing in the world’s best hockey league I didn’t see an enforcer, I saw an Indian with the same brown skin as me, a modern day warrior who used more than his fists to get where he had to, a warrior who fought with all it took within his body, soul and spirit to get there, the fists were a small part of something much bigger. 

I would tell you that hockey was also an outlet for me, an outlet from a haunting past I couldn’t and didn’t want to understand at the time, a past non-existent once I stepped on that ice. There was something about gliding through the cold winter air as if I had wings that freed me, wings on my feet with blades and I knew it then, that they were going to get me to where I wanted to go. Like you Gino, those wings got me far, they really did.

I understand now that hockey was not a game, it was so much more, an outlet yes, but also a passion that provided love to a kid who needed it and the rink was a place that I could feel safe and let my imagination run free. I don’t think you would have saw a bigger smile on an Indian boy, when I was winning the Stanley Cup with Wayne Gretzky every night.

As you might imagine, the hardest part  was leaving the rink to a place just a bit darker than I liked, life, where everything I couldn’t leave behind was there again, when I had to take off my wings and deal with reality, however, I didn’t have to reach for the stars when the rink was a short walk from my house, my dreams were just up the road and I lived them everyday. 

I don’t know if you have months to live, I sure hope you don’t. I just want you to know that hockey saved my life, as it did for you and I hope that one more time, hockey can save your life and I would say Miigwetch, for being an inspiration to myself and many others, but that I would like to thank hockey also, which in a way connected us, I think you might have been skating with me on those cold winter nights, I figure that love had to come from somewhere….

 

 

 

My Mishoom, Louise Erdrich and Wolves

Before I write a quick blog I should note to you my reader or reader(s) that I am doing this without going back to proof-read or correct my grammar, so this is my disclaimer. What kind of lawyer would I be without a disclaimer and plus it is my lunch break so I only have so much time before I dive back into my mountain of files, actually it is not a mountain, it is a valley of rivers I can barely stay afloat, ahhhhh! the life and whining of a first-year Associate lawyer. 

Anyway, I have been reading the Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich who is, I must say, a beautiful writer. Her sentences flow from one to the next with a harmony and balance you can only find in nature, sitting beside a waterfall or in a meadow of falling leaves, a unique writer that captivates the heart, soul and mind with sentences and words structured to the brilliant tones of Anishinaabe values. 

A chapter in her book is dedicated to wolves which encompass the values of wolves and Anishinaabe and involves a discussion about life, questions answered from one world to the next. This caught my attention because of my connection to the wolf, a connection told to me through stories by my Mishoom. You see my Mishoom grew up with the wolves on our family trapline and they had discussions, secrets he never really shared because they were secrets only I could find the answer to, secrets only found by being on the land. 

The one that will stay with me forever is the winter they helped him. It was a winter that was so cold that the moon turned blue, he called it the season of the blue moon. The air was cold and Arctic winds had known no boundaries or borders, to which the polar bears roamed into our territory having been confused themselves. There was no separation of North and South, insanity crept up all living species but probably crept upon my Mishoom the most who continued to hunt, trap and fish but with no success.

One winter evening after a long day of hunting and growing weaker by the day he trekked home, tired, scrawny and hungry, when he heard a pack of wolves in the distance. He turned and raised his gun thinking the wolves were just as hungry as he was and might have decided to turn on him although he would not make a very satisfying meal. With his rifle aimed, locked and loaded he waited as the wolves neared the treeline when a moose ran out. My mishoom was able to eat well for months thanks to the wolf. True brothers he would call them from that day on. 

Much more to this story but that’s all I have time for today folks…