A trip to a First Nation Reserve
I woke up one morning, (a little over a month ago) determined to go to a Native reserve. I had never been to one and it seemed like the time to visit one was long overdue. I admire the determination and the resilience of the Native people of North America and I seek the knowledge they have been passing down through generations for thousands and thousands of years.
From sixty million, the Native people of North America were left with a mere eight hundred thousand of them after the Europeans fully settled. There is no greater genocide known to human kind! We, (the Europeans) almost wiped them off completely. Their traditions, their customs, values, teachings … all was almost lost. One of my struggles is now to find ways in which to help the people of this land (the Natives); to regain their strength, their dignity and stability as a people.
I had no idea of what to expect and while driving on the dirt road on the reserve, I could not stop thinking of how the presence of a white man would be looked upon. I brought no alcohol with me, took off the Dutch flag (I was cheering for the Netherlands during the World Cup) off my Volkswagen, all in good faith that I would not insult in any way my hosts.
I am not sure how I did overall. The looks I got when I told them that I liked sage too because it tastes great when cooking meat, were something I will not forget. I could see the few Native people around me at the time look at each other worryingly.
“Here’s the barbaric European, ready to eat our sacred plants, watch him!”
Everyone was extremely patient with me. I appreciated that. I suppose having a Pow Wow where non-natives are allowed to attend, clueless guys like me are often roaming around. I had to be told to put down my camera for the Grand Opening (photos not allowed) but the warning came in a most polite and caring manner. After several minutes I was free to shoot again and I didn’t stop for quite a while.
I felt like I was part of some sort of a fairy tale or some long forgotten story: the drum beats, the regalia, and the people dancing … I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t. The Dokis First Nation Reserve is real and so are the Ojibwa people.
Such hospitality as I encountered there, I had not experienced in quite a while. I had the privilege to eat a moose burger and I can vouch that that burger was the tastiest burger ever! The rest of the food was great too: beans, corn, salad … there were fries and lemonade which they made right there in front of you. I never tried the bison burger but I am sure that would have been great as well!
My entire time spent there was truly amazing! I loved the people, the food, the entire atmosphere was great! Everyone was having fun and there were people from all over the world. One dancer I spoke to was Parisian, from France. That was odd, I thought to myself only until I turned around to meet a guy from Brazil. There were native people in costumes from different parts of the United States too and a guy from Peru was selling sweaters and all sorts of other hand-crafted ornaments. I felt a little more at ease when I realized I wasn’t the only tourist around.
I saw no alcohol at the Pow Wow and I was happy not to have brought any with me. I knew from before that many reserves are turning to become “dry” reserves, where alcohol is actually illegal. When I inquired about the alcohol situation I was told that the Dokis First Nation reserve allows alcohol but not too many people drink it. Indeed, later that night when my host (I was invited by the Mink clan and stayed with an aunt of a friend of mine) took me to a friends house where we sat outside chatting and roasting marshmallows, I did see a couple of people drinking wine and a couple of others drinking beer. That was it though in terms of alcohol and I was happy to see so few people drink it. I think, beside the diseases the Europeans brought with them, alcohol was the worst gift. It clouded the Native mind for centuries!
For now, it is our duty (the white man) I think, since for better or worse we have to share this continent (North America) to learn what we can from the Native people of this land and to engage them as well in the planning of our future. My call is for the Natives, to become more involved in not only the political system but on the socio-economic level as well. I do not think it is right to have the Native people in this country (Canada) living in some of the conditions I have seen them live far up in the north (living in portables which they call home and having to boil their water because it isn’t potable). Human rights are too often ignored when it comes to the question of how Native people live in Canada. We should all try to get a little more involved in what really needs to be done in this country and the world for that matter; if we make the world better for others it will be a better world to live in for ourselves too. It seems logical.