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.

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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. 

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.

 

 

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.

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…

First Post on where I come from (Seriously)….

Well this is my first post in this wordpress blog and I will try to keep it short and sweet which is difficult for me as I like to talk and I like to write and have a tendency to not shut up, long-winded so to speak, but a long wind of much intelligence and Indian sophistication, the kind of Indian sophistication required to make a good bannock or tell a good story, the latter is me, the former is my mom so were both Indian sophisticated. OK the long wind is starting I better get to my introduction. 

I am Derek Fox, I am Anishinaabe, I practice law, specifically Corporate Commercial, Aboriginal, Civil Litigation and Estates and Wills. I have two sons, my Anishinaabe Cubs who will morph into Kings of this Earth before I know it. I am of Cree, Ojibwe and Oji-Cree descent, I call Treaty 3 and 9 home and the way I was brought into this world was a unique one, no not what you think.

I can still remember shades of it, but I was walking through the bush somehow listening to the wind and being pushed by it at the same time. In the wind I could hear the sound of drums, they sounded like a heart beat that was similar to mine but nicer. As I followed and got closer I could see an old woman sitting beside a tent, it appeared to be made of hide or canvas, I couldn’t tell, but my attention went to the woman, she had long black hair, singing a song that was being sung to the beat of the drum. 

Then darkness and I felt trapped and scared, when the woman I saw sitting by the tent pulled me from the darkness and kissed me on the forehead. She said do you know how you got here? I said no. She said you were thrown from that tree, that tall evergreen, you were wrapped in a bundle of sweet grass and muskeg. I shall consider you my Northern gift since it is the North from which you were thrown and the muskeg, which surrounds us shall always protect you. 

So that is how the North came to be my home. Anyway, the work day at my office is coming to an end and the fact I am out of jolly ranchers tells me that I got my work done. I will have to say see you later to the group of pigeons outside my window, I swear I see them shaking their head at me sometimes. I think they disagree with my legal analysis with respect to my work, birds have been here longer than all of us, even the Anishinaabe, I think its time I ask for their legal opinion about their lands, they appear to have a lot to say. 

But. More blogs are a comin, blogs about politics, the law, hockey, the land, hunting and well lets just say everything I love and there is not a whole lot in this world I don’t love, except the LEAFS maybe, don’t get those guys or their fans, I kid I kid. But it is time that this Indian dances his way out of the office as it is TGIF. Thanks for reading if reading is what you did, if laughing is what you did, even better.  

 

PS- that is how I was brought into this world, just check my birth certificate. I think it is a piece of bark sitting somewhere near that tree I was thrown from. It was supposed to be a part of the package but fell in flight….