Ten Days to the Trek

NWMP sign Chimney Coulee brighter

My North West Mounted Police Trail walk (AKA Sitting Bull Trail Walk, Lakota Trail pilgrimage, Metis Trail pilgrimage) begins very shortly, on July 17th! Our small group of pilgrims will be greeted at Wood Mountain (Lakota) First Nation with a smudging ceremony and a blessing to send us off. As well, there will be a Royal Canadian Mounted Police ceremony to send us off, as we begin our three week walk. If you would like to donate to help create the documentary of the walk, please see https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/walking-the-medicine-line#/story. We have already met our initial goal, but additional funds raised will go toward hiring a sound person and camera-person to make the documentary even better. Thank-you!

govt sign three

Mother Canada and Indigenous peoples as seen from England on Canada Day

What is this about this big statue your government is building….what’s it called? Mother Canada? From the pictures I’ve seen, looks ghastly.

I try to tell people here that I couldn’t agree more. Mother and Canada are two good words in their own right. To my mind, however, they just don’t go together. What’s more, the Mother Canada statue will apparently be reaching out eastward, toward Europe. Straining toward Europe by the looks of it. I wonder what the First Nations would think about that. And why Mother Canada’s planners don’t seem to make any reference at all to the earth that has been our real mother since we who are European background arrived on these shores.

My son and I took a 5-mile walk along the Cam river today, Canada Day. It feels a bit odd to be here, in England. Of the string of houseboats moored along the river, one of them was flying a Canadian flag. I took a picture. And I wore my Haudenosaunee tee-shirt. For me, at least now, being Canadian, which I am, has to include also some recognition of those other nations.

One-third of the way there!

(see the 3-minute video clip here) https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/walking-the-medicine-line#/story

With news of a recent tornado in south-west Manitoba, it seems even more important to ensure that we have an emergency vehicle along for our pilgrimage (most nights we’ll be tenting). It will also serve as our cookshack and toilet. We’ve raised $595 on Indiegogo….one third of the way there!

Kahnawake Morning

Idle No More trailer shot

The long boom of a lake freighter’s horn woke me up this morning, and within a minute, even from my bed I could feel its massive bulk sliding past just a few metres away on the Seaway. There is something in the air, a vibration that shakes you, when something that big is in motion, so close.

Apart from the freighter, however, it’s quiet here this morning in Kahnawake Mohawk Territory. Sparrows and red-winged blackbirds flit back and forth in the grass along the seaway, calling out to each other. Garter snakes and frogs fight their battle for survival under the cover of leaf and deadfall. After 35 kilometres of walking in the heat and seeing new sights the last two days, my sunburned students are just waking up.

Our group of pilgrims exemplify urban Montreal, and especially Concordia: the students speak Arabic and Spanish, Ukrainian and Armenian in addition to English and French. Some have complicated family backgrounds spanning several continents. One carries a First Nations identity card. A few have shared family histories of oppression and displacement. As ‘hyphenated Canadians’, the questions they ask of the Mohawk are particularly insightful: how is it possible to share land and not lose identity? How will a Mohawk policy of not allowing mixed marriages to remain in Kahnawake work? Do you have your own passports? Why don’t you call yourselves Canadian?

This is a pilgrimage in so many ways. A journey of discovery of ourselves and of others, born on the feet, felt in the heart and mind.

May 23 a red-serge letter day

NWMP trek

May 23, 1873, the Dominion of Canada created the North West Mounted Police. Many were misfits. Quite a number of the first recruits were sent home, some went home when they saw the conditions. But they proved themselves, acting bravely, often honourably and occasionally even nobly, despite bureaucratic bungling and sometimes terrible direction from a far-away government.

The NWMP were poorly equipped, fitted out with red coats (Macdonald didn’t want the Americans to think they were a military unit, but rather a police force), and had to go through the States to get to their Canadian posts, because there was no railroad. Their first task was to trek to the North West Territories so recently acquired from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and to take advantage of the temporary power vacuum in the west created by the American Civil War’s effects, to seal the border against the United States (a number of the American “wolfers” were themselves Civil War vets and perhaps sufferers from what we would now call PTSD). They were to gain the trust of the First Nations, which they for the most part did, a trust that their political masters later occasionally asked them to betray, a turnaround that deeply disappointed and forever marked some of the first recruits.

Canada would not be the country it is without the red coats. But we could do a lot of learning from their first years, still. Or again.

govt sign three

Scouting the Trail

Today we scouted the beginning of the North-West Mounted Police Trail. It meant piling five of us into a big Dodge Ram and pounding over the Wood Mountain hills. Thelma, a renowned poet and historian from the area, called it the “Boundary Commission Trail” several times, since the original NWMP trek was further north. Or it might be the “Metis Trail”, or the “Major Walsh” trail (although she doesn’t have kind words for him).

Anyway, we scouted it. Today we pulled out maps. Come summer we will walk.

Between then and now dreams and visions.

My Corner of Gloryland

 John Golling (Grandpa) as young man 1          farm-2-new-homeland

This week I’ve been seeing some of the old photos of my grandparents and their parents before them, and hearing stories of the first European settlers on this prairie. My grandparents, like most of their neighbors, were hard-scrabble, tough immigrants. Before electricity, before water lines, before roads even, they came. They came for the promise of land. Most of them were not as romantic about the countries they had left as we, their grandchildren, are. After all, they’d made the decision to go. In the words sung by Archie and the Boys (see below), the old time band that played today at my father’s care home in Herbert SK, they wanted, not the old, but the new: their own ‘piece of gloryland’. And the Government of Canada was happy to promise it to them.

The posters advertising the new homeland, however, neglected to mention that there were already people living here. The nomadic First Nations and mobile Metis were not used to, nor invited into, this new world of fences and property title and cattle rather than bison. A combination of starvation and forced removal cleared the land of Aboriginal peoples so that my grandparents – more fortunate pawns, but pawns nonetheless – in a continental political-economic development scheme, could take their place.

Did it turn out to be Gloryland? Saskatchewan is a great place. But we are all – First Nations and settlers alike, but particularly First Nations, still feeling the aftershocks of that great removal. To me, the posters advertising a new homeland in the Canadian West for European immigrants aren’t just art. They’re chilling propoganda.

(Photo is of John Samuel Golling, my grandfather. Thanks to Archie and the Boys for their music and their permission to post!)