The Distance Between Me and You

dancing feet

Yesterday was the last day of the Battleford Trail walk. 350 kilometres in total, Hugh Henry tells us. Along the way we read journal excerpts from one of Colonel Otter’s troops as they marched north along the same path in 1885. The writer was a young, green recruit from central Canada who’d probably never seen either a First Nations person or the plains. He wrote: “We saw our first Indian today. He was within rifle distance.” Richard Kotowich, who is Métis, gave a short and powerful talk as he smudged us. “How do we measure the distance? Do we still measure it like that unnamed soldier? Close enough to harm? Close enough to be defensive? Or have we learned to say: ‘the Indian’ we meet is close enough to greet, to get to know, to invite to eat, to sit together and learn from and with?”

This pilgrimage, for me, has been about things old AND things new. The Trail is as old as the Plains Cree that went south to hunt bison, the burial grounds that go back millennia, the Bear Hills that now seem so empty. But the Trail is also as new as the ‘no trespassing’ signs and the farm dogs we met as we approached Battleford, a town which, as a local citizen told us, has “13 reservations around it.” He didn’t add that it was our own government that put them there, often against their will and miles away from their traditional lands, for the convenience of railway and Settler. This trek has been about remembering that Métis, First Nations and Settler all used this trail. It has been about smudging with farm families who in some cases perhaps have never participated before in such a ceremony, and making them welcome. It has been about including First Nations concerns in our conversations naturally, neither preaching nor apologizing, just quietly and consistently recognizing the facts of the Treaties, the expulsions, and the injustices. It has also been about listening to the older farm folks who talk about the coulees and valleys, the rivers and the land and the wildlife with such love and longing that you know the land has taught them, over years. So how DO we measure the distance between Settler and First Nation? We danced with the First Nations dancers in Fort Battleford, but it was just a beginning. For those of us who are non-Indigenous, even after a 350 km Battleford Trek, we have a ways still to travel.

Poundmaker and Otter

British flag

Mosquito First Nation


Tonight we’re guests in the band hall of Mosquito FN. I can say ‘guests’ because tomorrow we leave, unlike the first European ‘guests’ who stayed in this land and took over. The good folks here laid out food for us and welcomed us in, smudging the table before we ate. Steve dropped in to have some food. He’s Assiniboine but speaks Cree, because that’s what’s taught in the local school. Helen, who is a residential school survivor, dropped by and told her story. So generous. All I can think about is the manslaughter case before the courts, a death of an Indigenous young man that occurred on a ‘white’ farm not far from here. No one has mentioned it yet. 

Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’

So yesterday, at Cando SK there was a stiff breeze. I set up my tent, but didn’t peg it down, and went to help others. Judy Erickson turned around: ‘is that your tent?’ My tent was rolling away like a thistle, half a field away. I caught it finally just before it reached the paved road. This morning, which was cold, dewy, wet and still, Fred put his tent to dry in the ramp space of the community hall. ‘It’s my tent escape prevention mechanism’ he teased me.

 

Noticing


At four km an hour, you notice different things. The little garter snake, length and width of a pencil, stopped on the gravel road but turning and trying to snap at your hiking stick when you check it out. The red-tailed hawk that circles above, complaining at your presence (or welcoming you to the land?). The golden fawn that bolts from the brush ahead and in three bounds, is back into the impenetrable bush. The badgers, the skunks, the coyotes, the yellow butterflies that jump up from a wet depression in the dirt road to flutter, a blessed cloud, around you as you walk. The chokecherries, much too sour for life in the city where there is chocolate and café au lait, but on this walk a welcome juicy mouthful for which you are immensely grateful. Maybe that is the word that sums it all up: grateful. For life at four km/hr.

It Matters to Me

It Matters Metis Flag

This is what Sharon Pasula’s tee-shirt from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission says. It’s the reason we’re walking. Sharon drove from Edmonton to join us in Herschel. She led us in a smudge the day after Rick (who had led us regularly) returned home to Regina. It matters to me. It matters to us, that the trail we walk has been used for hunting, for freighting, and for settling. It matters to us that a trail that now sits on private land be remembered as of public interest. It matters to us that we remember the three groups that used the trail – First Nations, Métis, and Newcomers (including the military) – and recognize and remember the positive contributions and also the failures and mistakes made along this trail. Most of all, the land matters to us. It doesn’t belong to us. We belong to it. As with the Métis flag Sharon carries, it matters.

Ten Seconds of the Battleford Trail

Took this short video today, while walking into a very strong wind from the south-east. It may be bringing rain. There were seven or eight white-tailed deer in a nearby field watching us pass. Shortly after we found tracks, in the dirt road, of a cat, probably a bobcat.