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.