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…