Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 15 Afternoon Closing: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Afternoon ClosingCold Lake First Nations English Bay Community Centre
Day 15 (Wednesday, August 31st, 2011):

Bannock: We waited 15 days to eat to
our hearts content
This would be the day we all get to eat bannock and dessert.  We walked to the CLFNS E-Bay Community Centre for the Wednesday weekly Bannock & Soup.  It wasn't just any Bannock & Soup this week.  We were celebrating a community member Elder's birthday and also it was to honor this project & all it's participants and planners.

When we arrived there were a lot of community members and it was a full house.  My mom, brother, Ken, Darilyn, & other family members came too.  It was so nice to see so many family today.

Chief Eric Gadwa from Kehewin Cree Nation spoke and thanked us all for being part of this project and so did Dave Scott of Tribal Chiefs Ventures.  They asked for me & Duane to speak about our experience and I couldn't help but get emotional because I felt so much gratitude but I also encouraged the people to please go back to the land and feel it's strength & transquility.  Of all the things, I spoke about I can only hope that one person heard me pleading for them to help save our Mother ~ Earth & for all of us to protect her, for ourselves too...for our survival!

These are my new found family...FYI: this is the first time any of us have dressed up & it was the first time I did my hair in 15 days...we clean up gooooddddd (lol).
My Sweet Angelle,my partner in crime

Our scholar, Graham...he would remind me to stop being a mom
(well, he's the same age as Germain)

Our Muskrat Warrior, Duane...he kept us safe & laughing

Our Humble Elder, John...when he spoke, you listened
Tom Piche (background), Director of E-Bay Centre
Our Bull Rider Ryan, the ladies man, hee, hee &
Our Storytelling Outfitter, Gerald...he kept us fat for the Bears lol
Soil Injection Project: Our Group (L to R):
Graham, Angelle, John, Gerald, Shannon (Me), Ryan, Duane, Brian

We also can't say enough about how grateful we felt for all the staff at Cold Lake English Bay Community Centre and all the friendly and generious caring community members of Cold Lake First Nations for all their kindness, stories, & just stopping in and being with us at our camp....we will miss you, our daily visitor, Dennis...keep drinking that mint tea.

All I know I, is I made great friends & family for life, I plan to start coming out here each year & go hunt & gather north of Cold Lake and do what our people have done for thousands of years...be with our Mother!

Now, I ask you ~ "What are you going to do to help Mother Earth & SAVE us ALL!...ONE Person can Make a Difference!

From Wetland to Wasteland

Day 15 Morning: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Our Last Time Together in Camp ~ Morning
Day 15 (Wednesday, August 31st, 2011):

I woke at 6:00 AM with a text from Ken informing me the imported blueberries were on their way picked near Kehewin Cree Nation on Moose Mountain.

Everyone was up early and I heard our Muskrat Warrior leave and he came back with Tim Horton's coffee, hmmmmm good.  Then, Graham crawled out of his tent and got into his truck & left.  Everyone was on the go!  He returned about 30 minutes later with Tim Horton's donuts, now that was awesome.  We hadn't been able to eat donuts throughout this project, we feasted waiting for Ken to get here with our blueberries.  He was soon to arrive by 7:30 AM or so.

We were going to use the delicious blueberries for the special pancakes Angelle & I would make for the whole camp. However, we would make sure a sample went with Graham, so he could have a comparable sample miles away from the major activity of oil plants. Ken even provided him with a global positioning (GPS) location. He arrived with Darilyn, my son's girlfriend...she was hurting, it was too early for her because just the night before her, Ken, & Germain came to visit me late after everyone went to bed. Germain was heading out to work & I hadn't seen him since I arrived at the camp, so I was glad to see him, even if it was for only an hour.

The pancakes were awesome with bacon & eggs, we made so much that there was plenty to send over to the staff at the Cold Lake First Nations English Bay Community Centre.  It was our last meal together in our little family camp.  We soon gulped our food down, licked our lips, gave some good belly rubs to finish the feast, & sat for a few minutes washing down our meal with fresh coffee and conversation.

Once everyone was set to start the rest of the day & get ready for the Special Lunch the staff at the Cold Lake First Nations English Bay Community Centre was bepairing in our honor, I suggested we have a closing circle while Muskrat Warrior's dad, Alex Janvier was present with us.  So, we all arose from our seats and did our last walk towards our  famous campfire, stood around it, one last time...

Duane (Muskrat Warrior) honored us by doing the traditional smudge with sweetgrass.  We each went, one-by-one, and shared our hearts, gratitude, and appreciation for this unique and meaningful experience.  We closed our circle with a prayer and acknowledged that we will never be like this together again , in this moment in time.  We needed to honor this moment!  As we closed our circle, we created balance as is tradition with Natural Law...we walked one-by-one around the circle & gave a hug to each one of our new found family. We then walked &stood back in our original place within our circle & waited to receive a hug again from our family...balance was created and in our own way we honored our Mother ~ Earth.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Day 14: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 14 (Tuesday, August 30, 2011):

Well, today is the last day for gathering and collecting data.  I'm kind of grieving this day today & at the same time trying to embed every moment of this experience in my head, heart, & spirit.  I think we all (our whole camp) is feeling a little sentimental today, we get our moments of silence but what I hear in the silence is all of knowing we will miss each other and this experience.  On the other hand, many of us are ready to go home and back to our lives outside of this little family camp we created.  Don't get me wrong, being ready to go home, doesn't mean we want this to end.  I know for me, I always loved the feeling of tranquility in the camp, there is something here that we just don't get from our everyday lives...

I woke this morning and had a hard time getting to sleep last night, I was a little anxious about the bear that was close to my camp the other day.  It felt strange, that "fear" I felt last night, I haven't felt that way the whole time I was here, even all those times we just missed a bear in the bushes.  Anyways, I did a little prayer and left it up to the Creator to watch over me & besides, I don't think a bear thinks I'm that tasty anyways (laughing).  So, I went to bed with that thought and told the bear spirit to let me sleep in peace tonight as I drifted off into dreamland.

When we all woke, we had our usual good mornings and Muskrat Warrior's usual "Good Morning Princess" (lol).  I always get a kick out of that, he says it with such enthusiasm and makes us all laugh.  We had breakfast and we didn't really have anything planned for the day like hunting and/or gathering.  I guess part of that was because today would be the last day we would give our "Famous Samples" to be sent to "That Big City of Ottawa".  I never thought, I'd be anxious to get that part of this research done with...I think we all are (hee, hee).

Most of us, not me, slowly packed our things.  Angelle helped her dad to start packing the kitchen area but only enough so we could have our last meal tomorrow.  Angelle & I planned a great breakfast for all of us & we know it's going to be awesome because it's something we all had been missing the whole time we were here...YOU'LL have to read tomorrows journal to see what it is...

An abandoned camp we saw days before hidden in the bushes
away from the road, such beauty to be disrespected
by humans
As the others packed their camp area, Muskrat Warrior left to his dad's sweat lodge to get it prepared.  I helped Graham pack the samples he couldn't send by plane last week.  The research group finally figured out how they were going to get out samples to Ottawa because this was the first time any of them did this type of research that entailed them shipping it out of Alberta.  So we packed all the samples, I won't get into details, but there were two extra large sized deep freezers full of our samples and all the other samples.  We packed them is coolers and secured them properly according to the Dangerous Goods Transportation Law and headed to Staples in Cold Lake.  Graham was so glad he didn't have to drive all the way to Edmonton, this time, we just had to get to Cold Lake.  So I went with him, as our "Indigenous Sample Escort" (hee, hee) to say good-bye and wish our samples well.  The lady at Staples was quite nice and very interested in what we were doing.  As we left our precious cargo in her hands, I thought maybe I should turn around and send a letter with it, that said something like this...Dear Prime Minister Harper,  We as First Nations people of this land want you to honor our Treaties and our sacred connections to our Traditional Lands and we EXPECT, this is not a polite request, but EXPECT you to do everything you can to protect our Mother ~ Earth....etcetra etcetra...& as a gift, here is our ......

Like I said, it was a thought!

Graham & I returned back to the camp feeling accomplished.  Later on he was getting ready to do some air samples with the special machine Dr. Blais (Jules) had ordered days earlier.  The part for the air testing machine was in & he asked if I would be willing to take him to some Oil Plants to test the air for certain types of chemicals that have proven to cause cancer.  Sureeee, I was more than willing, I have never been that close to the Oil Plants before and only heard pieces of information from family who worked in the Oil Industry.  I was also anxious to see if these certain chemicals were in the air near these plants.  If they were, then that would be a major issue and immediate action would have to take place.  I guess these chemicals are not permitted and industry can get into a lot of trouble if these chemicals are present because I found out during this study many people who work in this field have health related issues, if not immediately, but years later.  However, governments and agencies directly linked to industry are always denying it.  It's all about the Mitty $$$$$$$!  However, one thing for sure today, is...if these certain chemicals, we are testing for, are in the air ~ more than our samples will hit the fan!


This sign is just a hop skip & a jump from homes, cabins &
a pristine lake Brian advised us not to eat the berries we
picked near there

Graham & I got in their rental truck & headed out to a few places.  One location I took him to was in one of Imperial Esso's  area north of Ethal Lake.  We stopped to get some more soil samples too from an area I had gathered days earlier and was uncertain if I took enough samples before.  As we drove along, I stuck the reader out the truck window and stayed focused on seeing if their were any indicators of chemicals in the air.  Well, there was nothing, we were relieved but just by looking at the vegetation, I knew there was something in the air or soil that was making the plants look sickly.  All we knew, is those certain cancer causing chemicals weren't here or there wasn't enough, in the air, to read.

We continued on to the major Esso Plant and as we drove and got closer to the Plants, I started to get a headache and feel nauseous.  Graham, said it could be a result of all the oil activity here with the Plants and Wells.  He said Jules, gets that way too because he is sensitive to air pollution.  I told him I'm like that too, ever since I did a whole body cleansing, I am hyper sensitive to pollutants in the air.  That's also why I am highly allergic is cigarette second hand smoke.  It's a good thing that my body won't tolerate pollutants but it can be annoying at times.  However, I could use this hyper sensitivity to my advantage & be a walking pollution monitor (hee hee)!

Then, we got right next to one of the big Esso Plants, now I was sick and could smell a gross odor that was strong.  As I could smell it, I felt so sad for the animals and I told Graham I felt bad for them, that they have to live with this and I wondered what it did to the animals and their offspring or how it affected their reproduction cycles...

We were parked right of the plant getting close ups, these
are one of many sites, it's a maze of pipelines throughout
That's one reason why Graham said we had to check for those certain chemicals but we had no such luck, the machine wasn't picking up anything.  Between all the traffic at the site, & there is a lot of activity, we didn't get anything.  It was good though, that we couldn't pick up any of those cancer causing chemicals (that's doesn't mean they weren't there) but I do know for sure there are other kinds of bad chemicals present.  It would take different type of machines to test the kinds of chemicals in the air & we didn't have them but all I knew for sure was I Was Physically Sick.  I just couldn't understand how people work in this atmosphere, let alone, the animals live in it.

We ended our tour by seeing the Plant closer, seeing the open flames above the plant, and we headed back to camp.  By the time we got to camp, which was a 30-40 min drive, I was feeling better but I was even more curious to find out the results of all our tests, samples, and research in the past 14 days.  We wouldn't know those results until next summer when the research team returns.  We were all assured we will get copies and the results will be public knowledge.  I will definitely use this experience in my elementary teaching classroom once I complete my degree this year & graduate, this following June from the University of Alberta with the license to "corrupt children" (hee, hee) ~ in a good way, of course!.

Back at camp, we had our last supper and sat around the camp fire and Graham shared with us how much he enjoyed being with us and thanked us for all our support by being part of this research project.  I told Graham, that we all will be expecting a plane fare to his graduation when he gets his Masters Degree...he just laughed and the teasing began...

It was nice, we sat for a while around the camp fire enjoying each others company, one last time, like this, a moment in time, we would never have again!  We definately made this experience more than a research project, everyone of us put our hearts and souls into it & because of that, it was more than a project...we created a family!

Like I said earlier... there is something here that we just don't get from our everyday lives...it's that spiritual connection to our Mother ~ Earth.  It feels familiar because the closest connection I can describe that is almost similar is the unconditional strong connection a mother feels with her child as she breastfeeds her baby.  It's not only a physical connection but a spiritual, emotional and mental connection.  If you are still confused by what I mean, take a child you love with all your heart, hold him or her is your arms, empty your mind and heart from the outside world,  and open your heart up to only feel unconditional love for that child...now you understand!  This is the feeling I get when I am with our Mother ~ Earth, as I spent time with her, she clothed me in love & left me with a feeling of tranquility and peace!  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 13: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 13 (Monday, August 29th, 2011):

Oh my God, we only have 2 more full days left & then we all go back to our lives.  This experience has been the most amazing thing, I have learned so much, met new friends & family, my soul has been changed forever, & I have a deeper & heightened respect for our environment..I don’t mean “ours” as though we are separate being form the environment, but “ours” as we are “conjoined” to her.  What we do to her, we do to ourselves!

This Monday morning, during breakfast I promised everyone we would have blueberry pancakes on our last day here.  I told them they will be imported from Kehewin Cree Nation from the top of Moose Mountain (laughing).  I called Ken today to bring them for us because our researchers need more samples from other locations so they can have comparable results.  Ken promised he would bring the blueberries & also bring soil samples too from the gathering location.  Everyone was excited to eat blueberries & PANCAKES…we could finally have food with baking powder (lol, it’s amazing what we miss when we can’t have it).

After breakfast we got ready to head up north beside the CLFNS 149C reserve to do another day of gathering & hopefully hunt some rabbits and/or moose or deer.  So the 4 of us: Brian, Ryan, Angelle & I headed out.  This was such a nice day out but a little disappointing too.

As we drove towards the reserve, Brian tells me to slow down & watch for a small type like make shift road to the right of us.  When we get in there, he notices that industry has been in there & the road isn’t accessible because there is too much rocks now & we can’t see what is under the tall grass.  See what happens when seismic clearing is done, they sometimes plant “foreign” grass as their idea of “reclamation” to an area & it ends up affecting &/or changing the vegetation or natural landscape/environment for ever.  As a result, some plants die off, or are killed due to the introduction of an alien plant.  An excellent example, is the “domesticated cow (originally from Asia)”.  It’s a animal foreign to North America & ever since it’s introduction to our environment, our lands have been changed forever & many of our plants, roots, medicines, foods etc. have died & will never grow again in that area because where a cow goes, everything dies.

Maybe we will get rabbit today & we have our tobacco
ready, just incase, we do...tobacco is for offering!
 Well, this is what is happening to our lands.  We could only drive in about 50 meters & we had to walk the rest of the way in.  So we grabbed our backpacks, the guns, and our pails.  As we walked, it was so refreshing to walk on the moss again.  Walking throughout the bushes here is like walking on air because the moss is so thick that you want to just lay down & look up at the sky and sleep!  As we walked, we had a hard time finding enough berries to gather for tonight’s supper dessert.  We could only find a few berries here & there. As we walked we tried to be quiet too in hopes of seeing an animal for supper too…but our silence was in vain when our “Coordinator/Guide” Brian walked so far ahead of us that we lost him, so there was Angelle, calling for him.  Ryan & I started laughing & saying what great hunters we make, the animals could hear us coming a mile away (laughing). 


Seismic clearing all over the bush...
As we walked & walked looking for berries, Brain said, when he would come out here, there was always more than enough.  However, as we walked on the clearings made by the seismic projects, we could see other clearings along side ours.  If you looked in the bush from the sky, you would see mazes of cleared bush like a grid crisscrossing each other throughout the bush…no wonder we can’t find berries, they have been destroyed, berry patches have been disturbed.

Local CLFNS members shared a story about their experience… built a cabin on their traditional lands close to where we were walking, lived out in the bush for 5 years & one day seismic exploration started in the area they had lived off the land for 5 years & exploration workers blew the beavers dams, killed all the beaver, disturbed all the hunting area, set seismic charges meters from the cabin & in the end, was forced out of their cabin.

the cabin is across the way, to the right, camouflaged
by the trees
Later, we sat on a bank looking, across the water, at the abandoned cabin which had a perfect view of a once vibrant & alive beaver dam with flowing water.  We all sat there for a while & took it all in.  It was like a little piece of heaven, I could see why our story teller held this memory so dear to the heart, it was magnificent.  I just couldn’t get over it, I could feel the moss on my hands, as I sat there, & I could smell the clean crisp air full of relaxing aroma.  It was peaceful!  I tried to take a picture of the cabin but my camera didn’t do justice to what the naked eyes could see, you had to see it with your own eyes.  As I kept trying to capture the moment through my camera lens, I realized this tranquility wasn’t meant to be seen through a lens but only appreciated as a unique precious moment the 4 of us were to share together.

a blasting charge left behind, the seismic
workers aren't supposed to leave
garbage behind, they use these to blast
underground to test to see what resources
are underground.  In the mean time, they
also disturb underground water tables
& streams etc.
We started to walk along the bank of the river & we found a patch of berries to gather samples & just enough for us to have a snack.  The mint we did find was small & far between.  I suspect, if beavers return, the mint will glow again.  I will come back next year & check again, I do plan to return to this area, after all it’s an area my ancestors gathered for hundreds of years & I am going to keep than tradition alive.  I feel so blessed & thankful to Brian for sharing all so many stories of our ancestors, I will keep them close to my heart.

It was getting time for lunch, so we started to head back to the truck (we left our lunch there) & as we walked we followed the seismic clearings only to be reminded of the devastation; however, we periodically found time to keep our focus on the beauty of where we were like stopping to admire a few squirrels in the trees, lay on the moss and look up at the sky through the trees, & I even got down on the ground and tried to see the view of a rabbit…

I guess that’s how we all deal with all that is happening to our traditional ways, we try to keep on going & keep focused on the beauty or what’s truly important.  It don’t mean we stop & let it happen, we just need to keep reminding ourselves of what we are protecting. 


My view laying on the moss, the camera
doesn't do justice ~ Heaven!
I was sharing this with Ken, over the phone tonight, once I got back to camp & he was saying that’s why it’s so important for us to take the time to spend time with nature & get back to our roots…it’s who we are, it’s where we come from…he is so right!  I heard an Elder say that earlier this week too, we loose ourselves when we disconnect & it’s so important for us, as Aboriginal” people to reconnect so we can gain direction for our future!  I feel this is the same for all human beings, we all need to reconnect & be WITH nature & not separate from it.  Maybe this is the missing link to all this Global Warming and/or Environmental Problems…hmmm something to look at…

Look at me, I’m short of saying we are Avatars (lol)…hey, but they are sure on to something there, or are we?  There sure is something familiar about that movie, for sure!

So, we returned to the truck & retrieved our lunches, it’s hot out, so we find a little corner of shade & have share our lunch under the trees alongside a stream of water…I anxiously continue to listen to Brian’s stories he learned from his grandparents of our people coming out here gathering, hunting, camping etc..& I make a commitment to return next summer.  There is something remarkable about being in a place you know your ancestors stepped, lived etc. ~ it just grounds you!

Enjoying lunch under the trees ...ahhhhhh
After our relaxing lunch, we got back into the truck to head back to base camp but not before we make our last stop to the abandoned cabin we saw across the water hours before.  We not only wanted to see it but we wanted to walk through it ~ I guess this was our way of bringing to life the stories told to us about this cabin, it’s creation, it’s purpose, & how it affected lives…

What an amazing day, we returned back to base camp in the afternoon & were greeted by our usual local visitors & their humor.  It was an enjoyable evening around the camp fire with the last of our mint tea.  We told more stories & today was a day to tease our Muskrat Warrior because a few days before he told us a story about how, when he was younger, he told a friend that “his mother was hot”.  We all stated to laugh & gave our heads a shake in disbelief, then Graham, our 25 yr old researcher, looks at him & says in a matter-of-fact tone, “now that’s just wrong”!  We just burst out laughing harder because our Muskrat Warrior just couldn’t see the “wrongness”…well our Muskrat Warrior would get his medicine back tonight…here goes:

We are sitting around the ritualistic camp fire sharing laughs, stories etc.. & our Muskrat Warrior is going on about how he was just being honest & straight forward again with our Pakan, one evening, & Pakan got angry with him.  We teased him a little, saying things like, “geez, how come you keep getting into fights, like the bottle picking incident (lol) ha ha ha!  So, to throw a wrench in the pot & get our Warrior going,  I told him, “well Ryan thinks your sister is hot” (to get a reaction out of him) & he goes silent & looks at Ryan like he’s not sure if he should jump him!  Everyone bursts out laughing uncontrollably…our Muskrat Warrior realizes he’s been had & joins in the laughter.  He looks at Ryan & says, “boy, your lucky, you had me going there, I thought I’d have to fight you” (laughing).

Humor is such a great release & stress reliever after an emotional day…let’s see what tomorrow has to offer...grateful for each day

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 12: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 12 (Sunday, August 28th, 2011):

Jules taking soil samples & recording
Well, Jules went back to Ottawa, this morning.  Jules packed up his tent & all his things last night & I offered to let him sleep in the cab of my truck (extended back cab) so he didn’t have to pack his stuff in the wee hours of the morning.  Well, Jules is a funny guy!  I didn’t know he literally packed everything, including his sleeping bag.  As a result, he froze his butt all night & only used the thin wool blanket in my truck.  Maybe, he was saying all night, “we sure aren’t in Kansas anymore Todo (from the movie, Wizard of Oz)” (lol)…well, he sure wasn’t in warm Ottawa anymore (hee, hee).

The great thing is we had a great laugh the last night Jules was with us.  After we said all our good-byes around the fire, Jules said good night & went off to dream land, so we thought!

On his way back from the bathroom, he was walking in the dark & tripped over the tent ties of my tented outhouse.  We all heard a big “THUNK” & called out into the darkness, asking “who’s out there”.  Jules came out disoriented from the darkness & told us he just tripped.  We did as all “Aboriginals” do when someone trips up….WE LAUGHED…& LAUGHED…then we ask after, if he was okay (lol).  Welcome to “Aboriginal Humor” Jules (lol)!  We thank you for the great laughs…you will be missed!

Seismic Cutlines right through traditional lands...when I
I was walking through here, I was wondering how many
animal's homes & what sacred plants were destroyed...
"let's keep justifying our actions"

It was another day off because most went to the Cold Lake First Nations Rodeo, while Graham took Jules to the Edmonton Airport.  According to Graham’s project questionnaire, rodeo is part of a cultural activity (interesting); therefore some of the participants went & took in the festivities again.  As for Angelle, Gerald, & I we stayed back at camp & did the little odds & ends.  Our usual visitor, Dennis didn’t visit for morning coffee, it was pretty quiet.  Therefore, Angelle & I went to Sandy Beach, tried to ignore the garbage all over, and tried to enjoy our afternoon lounging in the sun, telling stories, & relaxing.  I sure do love this lake, I can’t say enough of how much it’s my favorite but what gets me STILL is the filth.  It confuses me…okay, here is a few members of Cold Lake First Nations who are wanting the right to maintain the use of their traditional territories (meaning the Peace Camp that made the news recently just North of Sandy Beach) & the Alberta Province has plans to develop this area as a public recreational camping area & they can’t even maintain or ensure that Sandy Beach or Hilda Lake recreational areas are clean and/or respected.  I don’t get it!  

What I mean is, Angelle & I went to visit the Peace Campers, the other day, to say “hello” & there is a sign to all CLFNS members, that they need permission to enter the area yet all the non-aboriginal people keep entering to launch their boats.  This is frustrating, the more I am on this project, the more I understand how & why our people (Aboriginal) are angry…more & more, each day, we are being forced out of our traditional lands in the name of “development” and/or “progress”…what a FAƇADE!


"OUR" Mother ~ Earth at her finest!

 I can’t say I know all the happenings at the Peace Camp but I do know I believe we all need to respect our Mother ~ Earth & stop abusing her, saying SORRY over & over again but still doing the same actions, & keep taking her for granted...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 11: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 11 (Saturday, August 27th, 2011):

Jules helping haul food ~ hmmm he looks like he's.... (lol)
Today is Rodeo Day at Cold Lake First Nations so all of us have the option to attend.  I decided to stay behind and take care of business in the camp.  I was planning to go pick some more sage & sweetgrass but, I found out later,  the day was already planned out for me.  It was a grieving day too but it was a good day with surprise visitors…

Kenny never showed up to visit last night so I called him & he was waiting for Bernadine nisim (Cree for younger sister – father’s brother’s child) & her family to go picking medicines too.  How cool, the whole family was going…what a blessing!

I woke this morning to Pakan making fire and chatting it up with Gerald (our Outfitter).  I laid in bed for a while listening to them until all emerged from their tents.  It’s going to be a hot day, I can feel it already.  I stumbled out of bed & when I exited my tent, Pakan turned & looked at me.  He said, I’m sorry Shannon but I’m leaving & I’ll be back tomorrow to pick up my tent.  I told him I was sad he was leaving & he will be missed.  I gave him a hug & he said sorry again with his eyes.  He was gone :( !

We all finished breakfast & Jules & Graham called a meeting around the camp fire.  They had discussed that, they were unable to use Pakan’s samples etc. due to his choice & will have to destroy all samples & information.  We understood & let them know that Pakan had decided to leave anyways (Pakan knew the terms when he signed the contract, we all did).  Some of us shared how he will be missed & how his actions affected us.  We all agreed he brought so much joy, happiness, & light-heartedness to our camp.  However, we all understood he has challenges like us all & we all wish him well.  I just know he will always be part of our circle.  The energy in the camp has changed & I can feel the loss, but we all just need our own time & our own way of letting go.  It was good for us to share & the Muskrat Warrior started the closing smudge & smudging the camp, while we each took our turn praying in our own way, the way we were taught, & in our own languages…you touched my heart Pakan <3.

Later, the guys (other participants) started getting ready for the rodeo & they were all so anxious to go check it out…as one by one they went & took a shower, they came back to camp looking all spiffy in there nice “town clothes’ (hee hee).  I teased them & told them they all look so handsome in their tight fitting jeans (no more sweat pants for Ryan), they all laughed, even our Elder John was laughing.  I think Ryan is looking for a wife…look out ladies, this former Bareback Rider is on the prowl  ;) (ha ha ha).

After everyone left, I thought I would help out Gerald & clean up the kitchen so we don’t get unwanted pests besides our two gophers.  Our daily local visitors stopped in for coffee, Dennis & Alex.  While they visited, my cousin, Gerose (her nickname) & her man stopped in to bring us moose liver & kidneys from a moose they killed this morning.  Gerose cooked it up & our Elder visitors feasted good.  We had a good visit, Gerose interrogated Jules for all his knowledge (lol)…she was quite interested in what we are doing.  Just before they left, she invited me to go over to help cut up the meat for drying.  I was excited, I wanted to learn how to dry moose meat so I told her I would come over as soon as I’m done cleaning & our visitors are gone.

Well our visitors were determined to stay & have coffee & tea & tell stories, reminisce about days gone by so going & learning to dry meat was off the agenda.  Oh well, I couldn’t leave the Elders, they liked to visit, “like the old days when our Dene people used to gather like this with tents & stuff” right here in this very spot.  Gerald’s old style canvas tent.

My 1 of 3 rooms in my tent (lol)
As we were visiting, I saw a burgundy van approaching, “hey that looks like my sister, Bernadine”…”IT IS MY SISTER”.  What a great surprise, Bernadine, Dennis (brother-inlaw), their two boys, my other sister Colleen’s two girls, & my other nephew.  It was so nice to have family visit…the first thing I did was show my “castle” (lol) & the kids all got on my queen sized air mattress.  We were all laughing because Dennis (who is like 6 feet 3 inches plus) was even comfortable in my tent…then they laughed when they saw my porta potty & tented outhouse…we were living in style, (lol jokes)…for camping that is (hee, hee).

It was a great visit with my family & Alex said it felt like home with all the kids running all over the place (lol).  You wouls think these kids never get out ( hee, hee)…they were so excited & Chloe so wanted to stay!




Our Ritualistic Daily Camp Fire Evenings
It was a restful day with awesome company and we ended the day with our “daily evening ritual” around the camp fire sharing our day while Ryan, John, Angelle, & Duane told us about the rodeo and Duane almost getting into a fight with the local CLFNS bottle picker.  See Duane is very conscious about the environment too & will also collect bottles daily (there are a lot of people who throw their bottles everywhere).  Well, apparently, he was in competition with CLFNS other bottle picker, but luckily for Duane’s “diplomacy” all was well on the “rez” FOR ANOTHER DAY in the neighborhood (wink wink)!  However, from the sounds of it, I heard Duane was the Spiffiest looking Bottle Picker of all the 7 Nations in the area…he is my HERO.  We need more contributors to protecting Mother Earth, there is only pride in being proud of keeping our environment beautiful ~ however it’s done! 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 10: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 10 (Friday):

Our Elder, John
This morning was funny, Pakan wakes up (our early bird) & waits patiently for everyone to wake up…then he gets laughing & telling us about his night.  He was in bed & in the middle of the night he reaches under his pillow & he feels something soft.  So he puts his flashlight on & he sees the brightest hot pink XXL silk panty (lol).  We were all laughing & he says, I guess this is what I get for being a teaser, I get my own medicine back.  We laughed & laughed & told him it took him 3 days to discover it.  It was our other Elder participant, John (he is a man in his 60s & very quiet & reserved.  So quiet that when he speaks, you want to listen) who found the panties at the E-bay Community Centre’s free clothes donations.  Pakan was all surprised it was John who thought & did this joke on Pakan…what an excellent way to wake up.

After breakfast Angelle & I went with Brian to go pick raspberries at a prime location north of camp that he found but the only thing it was right next to an oil company's station site.  That’s the thing about here... everywhere is oil activity, it’s so bad that there are times you think you are in an area where man hasn’t touched or affected then…poof…there’s a Well, or a Seismic Cutline.  It’s actually quite sad :( but we keep picking the berries & ingesting them so our researchers can see how much industry is affecting our food supply & traditional way of life…to be blunt ~ infringing on our Treaty #6 Right to hunt, gather, fish, & conduct our cultural ways without prejudice ~ “infringing” by affecting the environment negatively, an environment we need, require, & depend on to exercise our Treaty Rights…without an environment, we can not fulfill our Treaty Inheritance!

The Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations: http://www.treaty6.ca/default.aspx?page=About%20Us&ID=3

So much life...in something so simple but
Yet...so complex...LIFE!
Like I said earlier, we picked to eat later in camp & really had a good time chatting & getting to know each other better as we picked.  The only thing is we sure have been cleaned out of berries from the bears.  We can't blame them, only respect them...they are having a hard time finding food too.  Many of the bears we saw are skinny, or have unhealthy coats, the cubs are small, & we also read in the Cold Lake paper the bears are in town looking for food.  It's sad because a bear was shot in town just because it needed to try & "survive" because humans are affecting it's habitat!  There is not one location we have went where we can see the bears were there first.  Sometimes, we get to a location just after a bear feasted on berries for a while, this is shown by fresh bear scat…luckily for us this day, no bears but I'm glad the bears ate first!

Well, we picked until we got hungry & couldn't stand the direct sunlight any longer.  So we had lunch & headed towards Glendon, AB area to get berry samples & hunt rabbits from a location farther away from industry so Graham & Jules could get comparable samples to test from areas less affected by industry.  The funny thing, as we drove on HWY 55 is we had a hard time finding a location far enough from oil industries influence, there were batteries everywhere, sometimes more than homes.  I just know, I drove & drove for an hour & a half away but they were everywhere.

As we drove & drove, the two of us chatted about how much fun we are having, how glad we are to be apart of this project, how much we have learned, & how each of us in the camp bring a unique character or personality to the group to make it enjoyable, fun, & memorable.  We especially talked about how much we enjoy Pakan’s fun, easy-going, & humorous personality; which, lightens up each of our day!

We finally stopped at a spot I thought wasn’t fenced in or private property (probably was private).  The berries were skimpy so we picked only enough for a sample & soil sample while the mosquitoes tortured us & we did a little hunting.  We sure noticed the difference from the vegetation in this area from Cold Lake First Nations territory, this area was dry & even the moss was dry.  Unlike CLFNS territory, such plush rich looking vegetation. However, I kicked myself in the butt when I missed the huge juicy rabbit we saw, so we headed back to camp in time for supper with nothing to brag about but a missed rabbit :( unlike our Muskrat Warrior a few days ago who brought back two rabbits for soup & “baking powder free” fry bread (used egg whites) I cooked that night.

After supper, the men & our regular visitor, Dennis were hinting for mint with comments like “ohhh gee, it would be so nice to have mint tea right now”…”do you guys want mint tea?”, I sarcastically ask.  Ryan, so eager to answer with a big smile on his face, “yes, please”…so Angelle & I jump in the truck & say, “we’ll be back in 20 minutes, we gotta go to Nature’s Super Market” (lol).  Just when we are almost at that beaver dam (Beavers provide the mint), we see a deer…I stop & Angelle & I look at each other with excitement….then we both realize Brian has the 243 gun & our faces drop, our heads go back & we both let out a “geez Brian, he’s got the gun” ~ we laugh at our same gestures & carry on to gather mint.  Well, at least we will return to camp with mint!

As we drove back, we talked about the missed deer & reminisced about “what ifs…”.

What if…we did shoot the deer?  Well, we would drive up to camp, me driving the truck & Angelle on the back truck box with the deer, proudly, on her shoulders ready to present to the others…it would be classic.  We laughed & laughed at how cool that would be (hee, hee)…we would show the guys we can “live off the land” (lol ;))

We ended our day, with our ritual of mint tea & it was nice to see my mom, who came for a visit.  She was sleeping in the car waiting for me (she is still recovering from her radiation treatments) but she tried her hardest to forget her pain for a few laughs & play a little fun game of 100 points with Pakan & John.  She enjoyed herself until it started to get a little chilly but it was nice to hear her laugh & giggle with the others for a while until I kissed & hugged her good night.  Love you mom!

Another good day of gathering…fall is near & we don’t have much time left…let’s see what tomorrow brings. 

Just feeling a little sad & disappointed because Pakan made a “choice” & returned back to camp under the influence of alcohol & we all knew what that meant…we are going to lose a “valuable” member of our team & peer…many of us are going to bed with a heavy heart tonight.  It hurts so much, not only to lose Pakan but also what his actions represent ~ we are losing another good good person to the cunning & baffling bottle...sometimes such a hurtful reality for our people!  It's so obvious, alcohol & drugs doesn't belong or fit in with our relationship with our Father ~ Creator or our Mother ~ Earth...it strains our relationships & our sacred connections so much & we sometimes lose ourselves completely in the process!  A wise Elder once explained it better:


Before, I retired to my tent, I expressed to Pakan how much we all enjoy him here & how valuable he is to all of us, he smiled & gave me a thanks with his eyes ~ I will miss you & pray for you because you touched my heart...Pakan!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 9: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 9 (Thursday):

I caught Angelle of guard, she's usually
smiling (hee, hee) ~ she's watching...
water boil (lol).
Today wasn’t a busy day for picking.  It was on the schedule but everyone was kind of all over the place & had things to do.  Today was laundry day for a few of us, so Angelle (my other female participant), Graham, & I went to town & did our laundry in the morning after breakfast.  I never eat breakfast like this at home, every morning we get eggs, potatoes, bacon/sausage/ham, & sometimes toast made over the camp fire.  I defiantly have to get me one of those six bread camp fire toasters hmmm good.  The only thing that turned me off from toast for a few days was because on the day before on whitefish & sucker fish day, it was all cooked on the camp fire grill & we made toast for breakfast the next day & Angelle & I could taste fish toast ;/ ~ not tooo tastely…however, the breakfasts show hold you over until lunch & usually eat pretty light…a sandwich & fruit.

Anyways, enough about food (hee hee).  As I was saying, it was laundry day & when we got there, we did our usual thing, you do at a laundry mat but the thing about the Rez so close, you see people you know & get to chatting.  It was nice to see Homer Janvier & his wife, I hadn’t seen them in a while since Christmas.  The cool thing about waiting for laundry, I got caught up on transferring pictures to my computer etc, Angelle got caught up on the facebook news flashes, & Graham was being his studious student self & reading a novel…he is a very pleasant and respectful young man.  He is the same age as my son, Germain (25 years old), & I have a tendency to treat him the way I mother Germain…he says I’m “such a mother”, roles his eyes, & laughs. 

We are all so close these days & really have bonded.  So much that Graham is starting to speak back to me & I have to put him in his place every so often (laughing jokingly)... just kidding but we are pretty comfortable in our little camp community by Sardine Lake (lol) ~ Angelle & I joke around saying we are going to use one of our airbeds & float on Sardine Lake & tan (lol ~ it’s more like a big slough hee, hee) because we so miss being by Cold Lake.

After we got back from camp, Muskrat Warrior took Angelle to see his half Wolf & Husky cross German Shepard week old puppies.  Her & I were scheduled to go gathering again, so I waiting in the E-bay Community Centre (for wireless Internet) & I got caught up on my blog postings, chatting with Auntie Melanie, & Tom Piche. 

I am so glad Angelle is here with me, we make a great team
gathering food & medicines ~ it's all about a woman's
touch, the female Elder, Mary said that's why woman are
the gathers & men the hunters...two different temperaments
for each :)
We didn’t end up going out today so I hung around camp & tidied up, helped organize the kitchen with Angelle, &  visited with our few Elder regulars like Dennis from down the road, he says he’s going to miss us & he’s so hooked on the mint tea.  I like his company, he is such a funny man & we likes teasing each other & joking around.  He plays cards with Pakan and/or John now.

It was pretty much an uneventful day except Dr. Jules Blais (opps it wasn’t spelled "Jewels") received the wrong package (ordered calibration parts for air testing machine) but was given someone else’s package (HP toners) instead.  I told them that that’s the thing about small towns (even though Cold Lake is a city but still has a country setting), people can be pretty trusting & slack with IDentification.  It’s good sometimes because you get that personable trusting atmosphere but sometimes errors are made…when Jules returned from his meeting in St. Paul Tribal Chiefs Ventures, they eventually found out the package won’t be in until Monday.  Graham is so hoping it will be in so he can test the air quality in high risk areas.

On our 1st day gathering, Ryan getting
ready to pick his heart out & Graham
looking all studious (hee, hee) in his
cool rubber boots & mosom hat :)
That’s another thing that’s cute, Jules has no sense of direction, I gave him a clear idea of how to get to St. Paul & back but he got lost for a bit…he did eventually get back.  Graham says we all have different strengths!  It is cute though :).  I guess Jules did have an unscheduled tour & maybe got to see more of our beautiful land, he did; however, get to see where I live & our beautiful Kehewin lake.  Now he knows where we get that awesome honey he likes & those tasty blueberries Kenny is supposed to bring tomorrow.

I hope Germain & Darilyn come out to help gather & maybe hunt some large game.  I made sure to get all the bullets for all three guns, the 243, the 22, & the 20 gauge.  I laughed though when I went to Canadian Tire with Angelle & Graham for bullets.  Graham was telling the others, at camp, later that I just gave the girl at Canadian Tire a hard time on Treatys (lol).  He said, “geez, I felt for the lady, she didn’t know what to say & I think she was scared to get you mad”….we had a good laugh, I told him, “you should see if I’m out in a restaurant & they mess up my order (hahaha).  He said,
“oh my god, you’re one for those people” (laughing).

Back to the Canadian Tire lady.  Here’s me, “Can I have some 243 shells, please”, do you have your Firearms Card (FAC)” she says without a smile.  I tell her, “yes I do but I will show you my Treaty Card first then my FAC because you should be asking me for my Treaty Card first then my FAC.  My Treaty Card is what matters first anyways because it’s my Treaty Right to hunt & buy bullets.  I just thought you should know incase you get people who come in here & get on you about Treaty Rights”.  She looks at me not knowing what to say, then points to the FAC Sticker on the gun case & says she is only asked to ask for this card.  I tell her, “I know that but you should really be aware of Treaty because you will get people in here who will show this card because it’s more valid than this FAC anyways”.  She just gives me the bullets & guides me to the front so the cashier can scan my purchase.  I just had to educate the poor girl (hee hee), save her some of the trouble of blind ignorance about us Treaty people surrounding the city of Cold Lake.  Hey, if you haven’t even read Treaty #6, I invite you too…it sure isn’t the Indian Act,  It’s a powerful agreement our Ancestors went through days of ceremony, discussions, & asking for spiritual guidance (which aren't written in the history books) for to ensure we, their future, would survive & live on to live life to the fullest according to our culture & honor who we are, where we come from, & where we are going.  

Aiy-Hey, Maci Cho…the evening was quite quiet besides the usual laughter & our ritual chats around the campfire.  Oh ya, we were still laughing about Pakan’s apple juice sample!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 8: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 8:


Our CLFNS Coordinator/Representative, Brian
~ I'm grateful for all he has shared in regards
to traditional knowledge, Aiy-hey, maci cho 
This morning started off early for our Outfitter & Coordinator, Brian.  They went out at 5:00 AM to try & hunt for deer or moose.  I finally crawled, literally (so tired) crawled out of bed this morning.  We go all day & all the fresh air is good because it gives you energy but then when you drop to sleep, you literally drop.  We all have been sleeping really well since we’ve been drinking mint tea each night.  So much that we are sleeping in having breakfast at 8:00 AM instead of 7:00 AM, even our researchers have been sleeping in & they are on Eastern time zones.  I told them all, that I’m not giving them mint tea anymore, going to change to muskeg & tamarack tea (we pick the muskeg & use the bark from the tamarack tree) because everyone is getting to relaxed, they all laughed but said they have been sleeping well but agree we should cut back on the mint tea.

We didn’t go out in the morning, we all hung around the camp while Jewel & our Muskrat Warrior went out to Cold Lake so Jewel could take care of University business.  In the mean time, I went and helped the E-bay Community Centre staff with their Weekly Wednesday Community Soup & Bannock lunch.  I did little stuff but asked them to document all they are putting in the soup because we have to record everything.  I’ve kind of taken it on as my responsibility to help Graham record when he is away from Camp because today he had to take a run to Edmonton to send the first batch of test samples to Ottawa…yes we Ginny Pigs (lol) are so important, the capital of Canada wants our bodily waste (hee, hee) ;)…we always get a kick out of that…but did they get to Ottawa, so we thought but we found out different by mid-day…

When noon arrived, I weighed all our servings & had all of us record our food but BANNOCK was off limits.  We aren’t allowed to eat bannock throughout this project because, apparently, baking powder has aluminum in it & it messes up the test results, so E-bay staff we very generous enough to accommodate us & give us whole wheat buns…..hmmmm our compliments to the chef, the soup & berries with whip cream was the best!

I was so glad to see my mom & auntie Terri, they came for soup & bannock, I hadn’t seen my mom in over two weeks & she just finished her last radiation last Friday.  She was looking well, she is walking better & I can see hair is starting to grow back, not enough to make braids (jokes) …  love teasing her!  However, when we had lunch, I warned Pakan that I was going to have my auntie sit beside him & he better not flirt with her (we had a good laugh)…he is teaser too.

Later mom & auntie came to see our camp & they laughed at my mansion, all mom kept saying was, “oh my” & keep laughing.  She is cute, now she wants to come sleep with me.

One of the four bears we saw over 2 days ~ the bear is
probably wondering what strange creators we are while
he/she is minding their own business...doing what
Muskwak (Cree) or Susas (Dene) do best
When Jewel returned from Cold Lake, five of us: Jewel, Brian, Pakan, John, & myself went up to the Imperial Oil site, right within the area an hour north of Bonnyville & we even drove as far north as to the Bombing Range gates.  Our Coordinator took us to many interesting sites & we also say two bears again.  It’s amazing how many bears there are in this area.  As we drove to a few sites to take samples, we picked raspberries, more muskeg, & tamarack.  I can never get tired of seeing the beauty out here & all the vegetation.  There are places is the bush, so plush, moss all over, & everything is green etc. that you would think you were in the mountains.  


It explains itself ~ "You Are Here" lol





That’s how much amazing beauty there is & all of Imperial Oil has all that land.  There are pipelines all over the place.  At one point, we stopped & there was a sign with map, in the middle of the bush, that told us, “you are here” & the wells are here.  We kind of laughed because, there are signs in the middle of the wilderness that tell us where we are just like you would see those maps in shopping malls.


Pakan picking muskeg








Pakan & John walking back from picking
kinnikinnik ~ see the one of many oil pipelines that
goes on for miles in the background









As we took a brief rest in the wilderness, our awesome Pakan, opened the dust filled back of the truck box & saved our yearning hunger by offering to share his afternoon snack (in a paper lunch bag) with us all; which, he just pulled out of his one rubber boot from the back of the truck.  We laughed when we say the rubber boots & bagged lunch covered in dust (we were on gravel roads).  I said, “well, they want to test how much soil we ingest, I guess this will be a good reading”, we all just laughed especially when I took a bite of a cookie & it tasted like dirt.  While we were eating all of Pakan's food, Jewel found out, Graham was having a hard time shipping our  precious & valuable samples to OTTAWA...we were so proud to send part of us to Ottawa & the darn Alberta Province won't let these Federal Treaty Indians scats out of the their so called jurisdiction ( how did the province get so much control over our "scat"? ~ my sarcastic satire for the day ;)) ...therefore, Graham came back & will try another day...oh well, we felt honored our adopted brother, Graham (University of Ottawa Master's student) escorted our valuable samples on a touring return trip from Edmonton to Cold Lake First Nations & back...I've never been in two places at once, now I can say I have (lol).
Yup, we are goooood Ginny Pigs, after all, we all want Graham to get his Masters Degree because this is his Thesis project for the University of Ottawa & Dr. Blais is his advising Professor.  We told Graham, around the camp fire this evening, in a teasing manner to lighten up his frustrating day in Edmonton, that 
“we got your back Graham, we are here for you”
…he just laughed & said, “just like you have Pakan’s back” (read on & the bunchline for that remark is in the end of this journal, so keep it in mind).

When we got back, our Outfitter & my other female peer had started supper & we chowed down.  We were so hungry.  Pakan had young visitors & got to meet more relatives who are working as Environmental Monitors, it was nice to see because when I was working on Traditional Land Use years ago, my contractors & I wanted to see trained Aboriginal Environmental Monitors.  It was nice to see these young people trained.

After they left, we had a few visitors, one was showing a few of my peers a game & the other shared some medicine teachings with me.  I felt so honored she was willing to share some of her teachings with me.  I am talking about a local Elder who was raised on knowing medicines & she was so willing to share some of her knowledge she learned from her grandmother.  I humbly thanked her as per our cultural protocol & we continued to talk over muskeg & tamarack tea.  Another blessing of the day!

The day ended with another healing blessing & one of the best medicines ~ laughter…I’m not talking about just any kind of laughter but the kind that lights your heart & soul so much you feel utter pleasure & joy…

Here is what happened:

Pakan (is in his 60s but a very active person you can tell worked hard labor all his life & he likes to tease a lot & joke around) comes out of his tent & he looks at Ryan (another Ginny Pig participant) & says all serious & confused, “what job, what are they talking about ~ job”.  Then he says, “who was messing around with my piss (our morning urine sample), I put that bottle up there on the cooler & it’s only half filled, I know I filled it”.  I know, I’m confused at this point & he’s all frantic, so he crawls back in his tent & comes out holding a half filled urine sample.  He then proceeds to say with frustration standing in front of all of us in lounge chairs, “look, I know I filled this thing & it’s half full, who was messing with my piss”?  Just as he was going to say something else, our Outfitter grabs the bottle & yells as though he is pissed off, “well forget it then” he opens the bottle & dumps the urine right in front of Pakan & all of us.  As Pakan is shocked & tries to save his sample & yells, “what the…”, I yell, “what the hell are you doing”.  I am mad & Pakan is in shock, we are all in shock, then a second passes & my female peer runs out of her tent & yells, “did he drink it?”.  All of a sudden I started to laugh so hard; as the others, who don’t know what’s happening, are sitting there in shock.  Then someone says to flabbergasted Pakan, it’s “only apple juice!”

We all laughed so hard, I felt to grateful for that Good Medicine, it sure healed the day & helped all of us release any frustrations or tension we might have felt within the day.
Then Pakan, goes back in his tent & shows all of us the note he found with the SUPPOSED IMPOSTER Urine Sample:
“Don’t worry Silas, we got your back ~ we did your job for you”


The joke was on Pakan…& no matter how many times we brought it up right until we all went to bed, we couldn’t stop laughing until tears were rolling own our faces & our stomach hurt…it was the ultimate classic prank ever…