Monday, August 26, 2013

On Sasquatch and the fun of oral tradition

"I believe in Sasquatch
just as much as I believe in God
which is not logical
since more people have seen Sasquatch
than have seen God."
(The Sasquatch Poems.... by Sherman Alexie)
Two weeks ago I co-led a Christian Peacemaker Teams Aboriginal Justice Team delegation to Kenora, Ontario and Asubpeeshoseewagong (Grassy Narrows First Nations). We spent the first half of the  ten days visiting with organizations in Kenora, attending  Monday morning bail court and observing the commemoration of Cecilia Jeffries residential school. The  next five days we lived in the Trapper's cabin in Grassy Narrows, watched and participated in  the pow wow and had conversations with some of the residents of the community. Some of these were long time friends and partners with CPT. Others had not met any CPT members before.
However, there was an unusual running thread through some of the conversations. This was a frequent reference to Sasquatch.  For those of my readers who do not know what I am talking about, a Sasquatch is  a hairy manlike creature reported to exist in the Northwestern U.S. and Western Canada and said to be a primate between six and fifteen tall—also called bigfoot. —(Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) .Now, this may seen strange to those of you who think that Sasquatch  is a fictional creature. The theme of our conversations is that many indigenous people have some belief that they do exist.
I also recognized that the tradition of oral story telling is important for passing on knowledge. However, the fun began when we heard the same story twice in two different conversations.
The first was a man named B. . As we broached the subject of sasquatch he told us of a devout Christian woman from Grassy Narrows who had doubted that the large primate actually exists. However, one day  she had been out picking blueberries and looked up from her work to see the huge animal. She fainted dead away. When her daughter found her she woke up and told about the amazing thing she had just seen. This was confirmed when they found gigantic footprints, Experts came to make plaster casts of these prints and the evidence was preserved.
A couple of nights later S and L came by the Trapper's Centre for tea. Somehow the topic arose again. They began to tell us about a woman who had seen such an animal. I said, 'oh yes, we heard about that incident. The woman was picking blueberries and fainted." They looked at me with astonishment. " No, that is not how it happened." 
They went on to say that yes, she was a Christian from Grassy Narrows reserve. But she was driving in her car going to pick blueberries. The sasquatch appeared in front of her car. She did not faint at all. And her daughter saw the beast too. They did make plaster casts of the footprints. But that was not the end of the story. Word got out that Sasquatch had been seen and people flocked to the region to see if they would have the same luck. They moved through the forest and trampled the blueberries. The animal was not seen again.
We all laughed at the discrepancy in the story.  The conversation continued when one of the delegates brought out the book of poetry by Sherman Alexie.  She read the long poem about the tales of  sasquatch sightings and the questions it raises-such questions as in the quote below. The whole poem is here. It is worth a read.
                                                           "Do you take the bread and wine
                                             because you believe it to be the body and blood?
                                                           I do, as other Indians do, too
                                              because that colonial superstition is as beautiful
                                                        as any of our indigenous superstitions."

                                                'When I asked the Indian elder, she said
                                         with a smile, “I don’t know if I believe in Sasquatch
                                                              but he sure does stink.”'
                                                   (The Sasquatch Poems.... by Sherman Alexie)
This is not the footprint from Grassy Narrows. This measured 18 inches long by 8 inches wide.
(Photos- Michael Patrick)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Winnipeg Water Wednesdays

A few months back I was speaking about my work in Iraqi Kurdistan with a friend from Grassy Narrows First Nation  (3 hours north east from Winnipeg). Her first question to me was, "How is the water there"? This was surprising to me because no one else had ever asked me such a question. But it was also not surprising because the community of Absubpeeschoseewagong (Grassy Narrows) has had their health and livelihood stolen from them by the poisoning of the English River system by corporations deliberately dumping mercury into the water.

For six weeks this summer Winnipeg has celebrated 'Winnipeg Water Wednesdays". This has been a part of Idle No More and led by Michael Champagne of North End Winnipeg. 'These events are not protests and are not only for Indigenous people, it is a community gathering for all people who drink water. Many cultures have their own customs and practices to honor water.'

On Wednesday 21 August I was finally in the city on a Wednesday. So my good friends Peter, Brad and I headed down to Memorial Park in downtown Winnipeg to see what was going on and to celebrate water. Apparently this week the gathering was smaller than the week before but as 5 pm came people wandered into the site. The wind sprayed water droplets from the fountains and Mr Golden Boy on the top of the legislature looked over us. I wondered if the MLAs who work in the huge stone building knew of this gathering and whether they cared at all about it.

                                     Brad added his talent to the large (22 x 9 Kelly feet) mural.

                                       We all  need to  to pray for and celebrate the water where ever we are.

'The last Water Wednesday is August 28th. We will gather at 5pm in Memorial Park  and then have a WATER MARCH at 6pm down to the Forks where the water’s meet. We will also be putting together a TIME CAPSULE to be opened in 100 years so our children will know that we were thinking of them in the work we do today. If we all get involved, your great grandchildren will open that capsule and see that we were successful in our fight to protect our waters. It gives all of us an opportunity to answer, with action, the question ‘What kind of an ancestor will you be?’

                                     . We can figure out a way to live without petroleum products.
                                          There is no substitute for water in the continuation of life.