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Nezaatiikaang Place of the Poplars Connection and Disconnection to Land

July 8th, 2016     by Nathan Adler     Comments

Illustration: Shelby McLeod

Nezaatiikaang Place of the Poplars Connection and Disconnection to Land

By: Nathan Adler

I hadn’t stepped foot onto our Reserve since I was a kid. The metal hull of the motorboat hit land and I stepped out. I looked down, there was a white eagle feather, the length of my forearm.

Wow.

Are you sure it’s an eagle feather? Maybe it’s goose?

No, eagle feather. They reassure me.

Are they pulling my leg?

Nope. Eagle feather.

Grit and sand sticking to it, I rinse the feather in the lake, and straighten the wrinkled barbs of the vane flaring out from the hollow rachis. One of my earliest memories, is being in a hammock slung between two trees, me and my twin brother in our little hammocks made of blankets and rope, our Great Aunt keeping an eye on us, Freda, or Francis; trees creaking, wind blowing through flickering poplar leaves, sunlight on closed eye-lids, drifting wood-smoke from a campfire.

We’d gone out by boat, because the Access Road wasn’t built yet, with our cousins Ernie, and Lawrence, and two of Ernie’s boys who had never once stepped foot on-Reserve. My brother pulls out his video camera to document the event.

How does it feel? The universal question of a journalist.

It feels good I guess.

Not everyone had opportunity to access the place where parents, grandparent, great-grandparents, and ancestors lived. A century of colonization, displacement, dam-building, flooding, theft of children. Stuff I won’t get into now. Stuff that has been well documented elsewhere. Forces which, through callousness, or worse, willful intent, had all but separated People from their lands, both physically, and spiritually, severing connections. The annual Pow-wow isn’t called “Return to our Lands” for nothing.

I’m grateful our mom insisted we spend time on the Lake, giving us a relationship to the place, one, two, and sometimes three-times removed from the previous generations who lived here and called it home. She grew up in Sevanne, our Grandmother was born on Reserve, Grandfather’s Cabin, long-since fallen in. From swaying motor-boat, they point to places where they used to live. While we only visit. We are lucky to have the chance.

The Cabin which once stood in this spot, is a one-story building, overlooking the Lake, with a wooden dock. Our mom packed us 5 kids into a van for the 24hour drive, to the Sevanne boat launch, then by water out to the Cabin. No electricity. No running water. Bend in the lake where there is a sandy shoreline for a Lac-Des-Mille-Lacs-style bath, scrubbing and dunking in ochre water, rinsing off shampoo and lathered suds, bar of soap floating away with the waves. Then back through the reeds. Trying to avoid leeches. Too little to play poker with matchsticks, us twins had to go to bed, while our older siblings get to stay up playing cards with Ron. Swatting flies with a fly-swatter. Having to go out to use the out-house at night, filled with cobwebs and spiders. Rocks traded like baseball cards with cousin Hector. The arrowheads Shawn found. The moose skull Duncan brought back with us in the van for his collection of animal skulls—most of the flesh decomposed, only a few flecks still clinging to the white bone.

The trailer on Seine River Reserve 22a2, a second parcel of land, had for a while functioned as Band Office. On Mosher lake, between Firesteel and Seine. Rapids, and waterfalls. The bundle of fish Shawn caught. The taste of wild blueberries exploding between teeth. Playing X’s and O’s with sticks in the dirt road with our cousin Crystal.

Did we like New Kids On the Block?

No. They weren’t cool anymore.

Good, she nods sagely in approval.

There is a new Access Road now. Better to make the journey in a Truck or S.U.V. with four-wheel Drive. A new Round-house and Community Centre overlook the Lake where the old Cabin used to stand. A Flood Claim negotiation, decisions to make. To take the deal with Feds and Province? What to do with the money. Will it heal old wounds? Not even close. Better than nothing. Hopefully the next generation will have a connection to the land. Nezaatiikaang, Place of the Poplars.

Miisa’a minik

Tags: connection. disconnection, indigenous, land

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