Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day 4: Soil Ingestion Research Project ~ Cold Lake First Nations (English Bay)

Day 4:

I had a hard time getting up this morning, it was cold & too warm & comfortable in my bed, so I laid in bed and listened to my fellow Ginny Pigs lol talk about how well their sleep was & what they are planning to do for the day.  I laid there hoping for bacon, thinking it’s been a long time since I had bacon.  As the morning light was trying to get out of my tent, I forced myself up to challenge the new day.  I needed to wake up because we’ve been all getting up at around 6:00 AM to 6:30 AM each morning and going out gathering or hunting etc.. all day then I get to bed late around 11:00 PM to midnight.  So getting up this morning was a challenge; therefore, I washed my hair & face with cold water and left my tent to see what the rainy day had to bring.

University of Ottawa Masters student
making his observational notes.
Ahhhhh bacon….what a good way to start the day, so glad for our Outfitter, Gerald & Mouse (our Outfitter’s helper's nickname) & their awesome cooking.  Our researchers left to Edmonton in the wee hours of the morning so we were on our own besides, Brian, our helper.  Our Masters student, Graham, was taking Jaime (Doctor Doyle, one of the researchers) to the airport & he was going to pick up the other doctor, Dr. Blay.  We couldn’t do too much with the drizzling rain, so we sat around the fire, organized camp etc. all morning & I also read some of my journal entries for this project to the others.  They enjoyed that.  The rain also gave me the opportunity to post all my journal entries on this blog with pictures.

We teased each other throughout the morning too and since our researchers were gone, I had them all enter their food journal so we could give it to our researcher when they got back.  They also teased by saying since they were gone, we should all run to McDonalds lol (we can’t go eat elsewhere), this research required a “controlled environment”, meaning…all our food is monitored & recorded daily; therefore, we've dubbed this recording by Graham as “confession” or “confessing our sins”.  Usually around two times a day,

Graham sits at the picnic table and asks us questions one by one:
What did you eat & how much?
How many bowel movements?
Did you do a urine sample?
What exercise did you do?
& so forth…

Our responses:
I had 5 bacon, 2 eggs, 2 coffee with cream…
Yes, yes, 2 hours gathering…

Then, when we are done confession, we tell the next people, “it’s your turn to confess your sins & don’t be making them up” (laughing jokingly)…

Everyone finds so many things to tease each other about, you can’t go very long without laughing here…everyone is so comical, they find humor in everything…even the fact about foods we can’t eat like bannock, pancakes etc.  because certain foods mess up the researchers tested readings.  SO sometimes you’ll hear every so often, “ohhh I can’t wait to have bannock" lol or "right on, we are done when the E-bay Community Centre has their Wednesday Soup & Bannock".  It’s so funny to listen too, you’d think we were all in jail with restrictions lol!

Our "Afghanistan Muskrat Warrior's" tent
The first half of the day was pretty slow & a few of the others went to check the fish net they set the evening before.  While they were gone, we noticed our one hunter/fisherman had put a t-shirt  with the word “Afghanistan” across it at the entrance of our camp.  So as a joke, I wrote a sign, just below & adjacent to his tent, “Our Muskrat Warrior” ~ All Are Welcome”.  I like teasing our hunter/fisherman, he is a cool guy that makes us laugh & he doesn’t even know he has the gift of humor.  We enjoy his demeanor & his stories!  He is so dedicated to this project but I can’t help but tease him.   He gets himself into little predicaments that are comical at times like today.  Him & our other hunter/fisherman got stuck after they checked their nets, so since they couldn’t call us (no cell phone), they walked with their one whitefish & five sucker fish to the Cold Lake First Nations Peace Camp & visited there & cooked & shared their one whitefish with the camp.  When they got back, we teased them about them not sharing their one fish with us.  We all laughed because they noticed we didn’t save them any dry moose meat either, which our Project Helper, Brian brought us.  All I know is eating traditionally is like eating in heaven, my stomach loves all the moose meat, blueberries, fish, and even the few raspberries I found today. 

In the afternoon, the other female project participant (only two woman on project) out of our group came with me to find more sweetgrass about a kilometer from our camp.  When we arrived there, we tried to find ratroot around the creek & a local lady, Maryanne came out of the bushes with her sweetgrass & berries saying, “hey, aren’t you Alma’s daughter”?  We started to talk & together we tried to find the ratroot.  She remembers picking it when she was younger.  It’s just been so amazing these last few days, we have been meeting up with so many people out looking for medicines.  Some are old veterans & others are new to learning the medicines like myself and a few others of us in the project.  The amazing thing is everyone is so willing to share their knowledge & help each other out to find the medicines.  Even though we didn’t find the ratroot, I invited Maryanne to come to our camp later & I would take her to where we found ayîkicâs the day before.

When we got back to camp, Ken was there & our Outfitter fed him moose soup & berries.  Then, other Dene locals like Christine & her 94 year old mother came to visit & have some sucker fish with us.  The old lady was so cute.  She helped me braid the sweetgrass & she was really curious about what we were doing out here, so I trying to explain the best I could while Christine translated in Dene for me…so here is how I told it…

Well, we are out here trying to find out how oil companies, the jets, and all affect our medicines, the animals, the fish, and the food we pick & eat.  These people come from Ottawa from those big schools out there (University) & they study us & test us and our food, medicines, and all that to see if it’s getting poisoned.  They even test us because we eat all this food.  You know how they test us?  Well, we have to pee in a bottle and poop in a bag.  The old lady laughed & laughed as Christine translated.  Then I told the old lady, “we are so important that our poop even goes all the way on a plane to OTTAWA”…she laughed so hard.  “Yes”, I said, they don’t want us in Ottawa, just our poop” (laughing & joking).  She found it so funny & then I told her they even collect animal poop too & test it.  So I showed her some bear poop I collected (in a bag).  As I handed it to her, she was looking at it so curiously, then I told her what it was… she just about through it across the camp.  It wasn classic to see the expression on her face & we all had a hearty laugh about it.

Us out looking for berries, mint, & medicines by Marie Lake
Participation in this project has been so awesome that I keep thanking the Creator for allowing me to be part of this.  I have learned so much & felt so much Indigenous kindness in these four days than I have felt in a long time.  It’s so refreshing to go back to the land & learn from so many teachers.  I feel so blessed…even today, when Maryanne, Ken & I went and got more medicines & Ken went into the muskeg almost up to his waist.  We had so much fun out there searching for this plant, nothing could have been better.  We were out there for a few hours & if the sun hadn’t been going down, we wouldn’t have stopped.  Maryanne dropped us off at the camp, we said our grateful goodbyes & we walked away with a message for my mother in-law from her old Blue Quills Residential School mate, Maryanne.

Being with & part of the land is the best experience ever, I am trying my best to soak it all up.  I am so anxious to be a teacher, so I can have the opportunity to take my kids (students) out here to do what I am doing & experience the richness of our people, our culture, & our valuable knowledge…you can’t get this in any four walled classroom…our land is the greatest classroom ever.

As I sit on my bed & type here in my HUGE tent lol & I reflect on my day…I asked myself, “what was the highlight of the day?”.
Well…the highlight of my day was sitting braiding sweetgrass with the 94 yr old Elder, listening to her, & the icing on the cake was making her laugh & seeing the pure joy on her face! 

Life is about precious moments, especially the moments we spend with each other!

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