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.


The Arrival of our students is near…

The orange skies in late August always seem to bring with it cleaner air, drifts of fall leaves within distance, a litter of red, orange and yellow, a new season and a new beginning. Before the fall of this years leaves will bring the arrival of new students, some with experience, most with none, but all eager to learn, motivated to make a life for themselves. It will be a challenge to say the least, one of homesickness, financial uncertainty and many will be presented with a list of reasons to quit because often times it will feel as if they are trying to conquer a gauntlet, an obstacle course just as dangerous as the recent mud run I read about. Maybe not that dangerous, actually not dangerous at all, just difficult, in which adversity will be one of the many elements conquered for those who succeed.

However, although difficult, the Educational component and classroom lessons  should be appreciated in the moment, in which many friendships are born and different levels of thought from different cultures and backgrounds are shared and criticized, often giving the student an Education beyond the classroom, one learned about others, adding a trait of cultured to her resume. Meeting deadlines for essays or studying for exams, usually multiple in number at the same time, sometimes on the same day teaches her a valuable lesson in preparation, a lesson carried through her professional life and personal, which in hindsight, she will credit to her Education.

If I could give her some advice, I would advise that she study hard and play hard, the latter meaning that she enjoy herself and take advantage of all the programs her Educational institution has to offer or meet new people and the former in that, she is there to learn, a purpose that should not be forgotten. Although I repeat this often, but rightly so for its message, I would tell her that our Ancestors  fought for our right to an Education when they negotiated and signed the treaties, casting upon us as their Descendants a duty to attain one. The wise words of my good friend Justice Murray Sinclair, a knowledgeable man whose advice always seemed to steer me in the right direction.

So, as the night falls and her spirits follow, I sit and think back about my journey and I recall my first year of University when I lost my brother to cancer, then my second year, having to care for a new born, pulling out my calculator at the end of each month to calculate how much I could spend on food, gas and diapers. Finally, in my last year of my studies, 8 years later, having to steal money from that same baby’s allowance jar just to make ends meet, funds that were replenished of course. A journey that was difficult, many who will begin theirs this year, some who may not succeed, all I hope do, as I wish them well and safety, but encourage them to look beyond the obstacles when life decides to show her bad sense of humor. I would encourage them to look to their role models, the many diploma and degree holders, the many successes and see that if one can do it, than most if not all can do the same.

Racism. Just another perspective of a Nordern Anishinaabe man…

I often think of racism as a dark cloud, one that covers the beauty of the sun even at its strongest moments of brightness. Similarly, racism will create a barrier to seeing the beauty of a person at her brightest moments, to which there will be many overshadowed by judgment, creating an obstacle for her that carries with it many tears, heartache and a pain that hits the gut stronger than any punch could, leading to causes of depression, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse and humiliation. It is also the cause of broken bridges to which many were built, many more in the process, in a country that was once divided by it, one that will continue to be should ignorance and judgment continue to lead, rather than Education and compassion.

As I age my reaction to racism is met with disappointment rather than anger and the need to Educate rather than confront or retaliate, so as I read the headlines in Thunder Bay of a woman running a platform of hate directed against Anishinaabe people, I felt the need to react, but kept it limited. As I read the headlines of another woman broadcasting hate against my people, the wife of a Mayoral candidate in Winnipeg, a place I used to call home, I felt the need to react, but once again kept it limited. I took a step back and thought about it and I wondered what they were thinking and how they got there, my grandmother called this compassion, a lesson I only recently started understanding, years after her passing.  

Then I thought about my people, first and foremost, the young ones. I was at two different powwows this past weekend and I listened to the drum while the young ones dressed up in their outfits, whose parents or grandparents looked as if they put in long hours making them, danced proudly and honorably. I watched a young grass dancer with bright green regalia and a brighter smile dance hard, who knew where he was going and how he was going to get there, a jingle dress dancer with long black braided hair, unknowing of my admiration for her beauty of not just her rhythm, but where she came from and how she was being raised, evident in her brilliant stride, one of confidence.

I thought of our cultural practices, ones I continue to learn which teach the basic foundation of respect for each other, but more importantly, respect for the Earth beneath us to which we walk and care for so that our descendants may do the same. I was mindful of my grandparents who sung me to sleep every summer night with the setting sun in a North I call home, after a day of checking snares for rabbit and partridge and fishing the shallow waters for clams, a delicacy.

The image of them sitting across from one another, a burning candle and a cup of tea separating them, sharing a piece of bannock to which they both dipped in the rabbit stew we had for dinner that night still visits my dreams often. Anishinaabe grandparents creating within me Anishinaabe values, teaching me to love the people and land to which I came and learn from them the compassion and care they were blessed with.

So finally, I thought of my boys, aged 8 and 10, naïve to the path they are about to walk without choice, a path to which they will have to endure the hardships of racism and learn quickly how to cope with people who dislike them for their skin color or background, people who will judge them before speaking to them. They will have to be confused, lonely and humiliated and like many of the Anishinaabe youth beside them, before them and after them, they will cope and endure, which in turn, I am confident in saying, will make them stronger leaders because of the fact they will have each other and their families.

So as I watch the sun rise once again, a beautiful day awaits in a country that doesn’t seem to know which way it is going, with respect to unity or division as racist headlines caused by racist thought floods the news. The direction it goes I can’t control, the direction I go, I can, which encompasses a continuation of building bridges, educating the ignorant and encouraging compassion so that my children and their peers will have something to build on, which is a relationship I have with my peers, friends and the hundreds and thousands of others I will meet. The country I know from the people I know is going in a positive direction, the people I have met appreciate the need for Anishinaabe values, culture and our knowledge of the land.   

So, how these women got to the point of judging a host of different tribes, many of which I am still trying to understand is beyond me. All the teachings of my Ancestors, the land and all the compassion passed from generation to generation does not give me the ability to say or assume how they got to a point of expressing negativity on a culture so vibrant and beautiful, one derived from the very land to which they walk, to which they were born. Maybe an apology is in store? Maybe a little bit of compassion or Education, maybe a bit of both, or a lot of both, I don’t know. Perhaps a visit to a powwow or our home lands, to see where we come from and why God made us the way he did will allow them to see beyond the dark cloud before them now. 

Day 1 of my Family Re-union Trip. A Tiring Success…

This is a quick blog which means I will not have time to proof read, yes, another disclaimer. We left Thunder Bay yesterday, just my sons, Aunt and I. It was a nice drive and one that looked hot, the kind of heat, to which you can see its hazy mist floating in the air, the kind of heat that the moose hide from. That is what I was thinking anyway as I passed my hunting area, wondering where those guys were hiding or how they looked rolling around in the swamps, away from the bugs and heat.

In our travels we made a pit stop in Shoal Lake, pigged out on some powwow food and visited with many old friends I hadn’t saw in years. I also visited with my in-laws and reminisced about the days of fishing and hunting on the open waters behind them. We listened to the drum and watched the young ones dance around the Arbor, youthful legs and hearts optimistic about the world in front of them found in the circle around them. We didn’t want to leave as the feeling of family was found within the circle as if we were all holding hands sharing stories and laughs.

So we woke up today on the border of Ontario and Manitoba in a hidden corner of nowhere watching the sun rise outside our window. My baby is still asleep, a sign that our drive last night was a tiring one, but a nice one in which he got to visit with his baby brother and sister and friends. So I guess it is time to wake him up, eat some grub and hit the road to meet up with generations of Fox family, who are just as excited as we are to get there.

I like that we are all descendants of a generation that struggled for us, one that could foresee that we would be the positive change to their people at a time in their lives that optimism was difficult to imagine, almost impossible to see. It will be nice to see traces of our Ancestor’s humour, smiles and story telling as we all gather for a short time, but one important in that it will provide me an essential guide to carry on answering many questions I had about yesterday. Day 2 of my Journey continues…

This one is to my Cree Brothers in the North…

I received a message from Angus Miles this morning who is from Fort Severn, asking if I wanted some caribou meat, fish and Labrador tea, a diet of longer living. Angus is a good friend whom I keep tabs on through Facebook because he posts pictures of his adventures on the wild Cree prairies, so I like to think of them, but often called the barren lands, a word that does not best describe its beauty. If you have not had the chance to visit one of these communities sitting along the Northern edge of our province than you should add it to your bucket list of things to do.

It is a vast land of flat lands with caribou, moose and polar bears, just to name a few species, roaming freely giving a valuable source of nutrients to each other and the people. The Cree people have been in the territory as long as the sun has, sometime before the trees sprouted and their Creator gave life to the rivers. They know the paths and trails through the land and rivers to which maps aren’t necessary, just their sense and experience.

Their language is a unique God given dialect to which their stories and prayers are better understood, a soothing tone of whispers that can be heard if you are close enough. Their history is a tradition of living off and protecting the land, using the resources they were provided, thus, becoming experts and professionals in the Art of hunting, fishing, trapping and guiding. I once watched an old friend, Doug Kakekaspan, who has since left this world navigate the mighty Severn River, with the map of his memory, a stranded hunter I would have been without him.

I listened to his many stories of moose jumping over him while he did his business and watched him analyze the rocks we pulled from the rivers, this one is 500 years old and this one is 1000 years old he said, making me laugh, a shared one I will never forget. I laid with him under the Northern Lights as he listened to sounds I could not hear but see in his smile at a place called Rocksand that sits on the mouth of two worlds.

He knew the land beneath us, but also understood the trees and rivers around us. A knowledge I didn’t have but vowed I would learn, an inspiration rooted in culture and revealed in prayer. A spiritual teaching whether it was meant to be or not, a sacred relationship between the people, land and wildlife. One I never understood until we sat together and watched 3 bull moose swim by our camp, heads bopping in the water to a joyful rhythm of the river current. We leave those ones alone he said. A teaching from a keeper of the land, a message understood years later.

So, tonight I will enjoy my caribou meat thanks to Angus and dream I am in Fort Severn under the Northern Lights, a set of them unique to that particular place in the world, bright colors in waves illuminating a clear night sky, stars in the millions and the sounds of wildlife on the distant horizon. The laughter from stories told about my good friend Doug, a man missed but remembered and honored by the traditions carried on by his loved ones, like myself. I will never know the land as well as he did, but love it as much? I already do.



Nordern Perspective of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act…

I have learned as the law has taught me to give opinions with reason, logic and support, the support for my arguments expressed through words should be nothing less than a foundation of research and hard work. In saying that, my analysis of this Act is scratching the surface at best because I have yet to see its application in the courts, much of it imminent I am sure. An Act that appears to be creating more roads to them, than away and judges left with the task of it’s interpretation, analysis, application and ultimate judgment.

So I have read the Act in its form, a small Act with big hands and even bigger implications and at this point, First Nations communities should be posting their financial statements or risk having their funding withheld or any existing agreements in relation to that funding terminated. Hayden King has written an excellent article on possible, probable and likely implications with respect to Canadian society and Native and Non-Native relationships. Thus, I will try not to cover too much of his article avoiding any overlap with respect to societal implications.

The most I can do is offer the perspective of an Anishinaabe from the North who practices law, offering an opinion amongst diverse opinions of First Nations people, plenty to be made about this Act I am sure. In saying that, my opinion of the Act misses an element crucial to providing a sound analysis, I am not a Chief, Councillor and currently do not live in a First Nations community, just a First Nations citizen in love with Anishinaabe people and the Anishinaabe land around me.

However, my opinion is not formulated from an illusional pedestal of ignorance as many good friends are Chiefs and Councillors and many more who voted them in. My work and passion is also with First Nations people, involving a dream of providing a better life to my children and their generation, A dream of wanting to contribute with the skills and knowledge I have attained and using them to gain more, an Education never-ending.

In saying that, the Act in my initial reading appears to state simply, Chiefs and Councillors submit your financial statements or you and your people pay the price, one already paid and will continue, not just financially. Section 10 of the Act gives First Nations members the right to apply to the Superior Court of Justice to compel their leaders to abide by the Act, should finances go unrevealed. Here is the kicker, Section 11 of the Act gives anyone the right to do so, not just First Nations members living on or off reserve, which may have been a relevant clause for those having financial transparency issues with their leaders.

But my biggest issue with this Act is the part where financial statements of the corporate entities in relation to the First Nation must also be posted. Let me tell you why, my law practice involves helping First Nations incorporate or partner with other companies to develop in areas of mostly economic development. They see this as a chance for their people to become self-sufficient, a way to provide for themselves. What we do is set up partnerships in such a way to which the First Nation is protected but run by its Corporation. Thus, legally protected from liability and taxes, but making money, which in turn provides more funding for Education, training, sports programs and social assistance.

This Act will compel these First Nations to submit the blueprints to their companies which encompass their strengths, weaknesses and will be revealed to their competitors in bidding wars, to which there are many. Weakened against their competition, thus, weakening the concept of self-governance or sustainability through economic development, a thesis or belief, which speaks to the fact that in order to escape the chains of poverty, one must provide for oneself, a school of thought encouraged from the same Government imposing legislation to hamper that development. Confusing I know.

So what do I or we do now? We continue to deal with a Government who created an Act to which an ambush was waiting, a media blitz of a select few Chiefs with high salaries plastered on the news. A headline to which reading the story was no longer required or more importantly, a thorough investigation of the facts. Many who believed that our Chiefs were corrupt can now breathe a sigh of relief that they were right.

However, corrupt is not the Chiefs or Councillors I know but rather loving, trusting and compassionate best explains. A reason that what we do now is not worrisome, because how we do it is together, leadership with direction from the people, a concept the Chiefs and Councillors I know follow. An Act that will not weaken, but rather make us stronger.