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…