Interviewed on Oct 16, 2015 by Julie Price
What stands out in your mind about the Learning Trip to Garden Hill First Nation?
I remember a lot of things about Garden Hill. I was retelling my story yesterday to my friend and the one thing that really stands out to me about Garden Hill is the isolation. It’s so isolated and separated. The people seem disconnected from traditions and what it means to live off the land. But Garden Hill is beautiful, it was a beautiful place. And everyone seemed so friendly. It was strange, everyone says hello to you. They would wave to you from their vehicles. It was a nice welcome when we were there, like we had been there a long time or we were already part of the family.
Another thing that stood out to me was the fishermen. Fish is important. Everywhere we go there were boats, everyone uses a boat, partly because you have to. We had to use a boat to get from lodge to town, to the store, to get anywhere. We talked about fish as a source of nutrients for the plants, as the best way to improve the soil. We talked about fish everywhere we went. Fish are important as medicine to people, and for jobs in the community. The fishermen stood out to me.
What was it like for you to travel with a group of people from all over Canada?
I am used to travelling with groups, so that felt pretty normal to be together with everyone. What was different about this group was everyone’s different way of thinking and the diversity. It was nice. Everyone thought differently but we all had the same idea of what we have a as vision for a better future for everybody. I think that was a good thing.
After visiting Meechim Farm and the Meechim Fresh Market, what are your thoughts on that project?
I thought that was pretty cool with the chickens. Wow they raised a lot of chickens! It’s a really sweet idea. They are obviously not yet selling a lot of vegetables that they grew, but they are selling vegetables that people can afford to buy. I talked to people (customers) in the fresh market and asked them what they thought about buying food there. They said they were able to buy fresh food and good meats and eggs at the market instead of going across the lake. They told me it was more affordable and doesn’t cost everyone an arm and a leg to get some decent food.
I think it’s a good project, but they do need a lot of work in the gardening area. They don’t yet have gardening skills about planting and harvesting. I was talking to the people who have been working there and they don’t really know too much about it yet. If I ever go back there I would like to exchange ideas and share with them what I know. The staff people seemed excited about having a farm. I think they are all passionate about it. At first it was probably just a job, but it seems like they realize how big it could become. I explained about our project in Leaf Rapids and how it was just a trailer park and how there was nothing there. About how we cleared it out, and cut the grass and dug the soil and started planting. And now it is the most beautiful garden ever. And there in Garden Hill they have already gotten so far on their project, it could be amazing. They have cleared so much land and they have that farm building. I would like to go back again and share ideas, and help them learn more about growing food. It’s exciting to think about what they could accomplish.
About the Wabung Fishers Cooperative, what are your thoughts on that project?
It’s a really cool project. I like that they have a formed a cooperative. It means that people are really passionate about their work; it’s not just that they need money; there is passion there. You can see how hard people are working. It’s good that they got it going and got the deal with freshwater.
The community needs for these guys to have jobs so they can provide for their families. It’s so hard to live there, I was blown away by how expensive stuff is and how people are having a hard time. Some of the housing is in rough shape. People need opportunity and this is important opportunity for the community.
Tell me about the visit to the school.
The school was so amazing. I loved it. It is a big school, they have a lot of things that every school needs. The school was beautiful, there were lots of students. A lot of the kids were asking us if we were teachers. The bad thing they had was a pop machine in the school, I was looking around for a poster to contradict that pop was good, like a diabetes poster, but there wasn’t one!
When we went to the elementary school, I was blown away that they were learning their language at such a young age. I loved that there was an OjiCree lady teaching the kids their own language. That was so cool. I wish I had that chance as a kid and I wish I knew my language. I was a little jealous but also very happy that they get to keep that part of their heritage. It’s good that they have that (language) and that they are doing gardening and fishing. Trying to go back to living on the land is an important thing. I hope that us coming by the school and telling them about it more kids get involved in the project.
What was it like to speak to that big group of grade 10’s and 8’s?
Wow, it was different. It was weird. Usually I can’t do crowds. I don’t like it and I can’t talk or I choke. But right then in front of those kids, I had the words going and I was telling my story. I had their full attention and I thought wow, they really want to hear this. I liked it. Now if I were put in front of a crowd I think I could do it again. I overcame my fears. I felt like one of those guys who are motivational speakers – I liked sharing what I have done with my life and where I am now.
Why did you agree to become a Northern Advisor to the Northern Manitoba FCCF?
First thing, when you asked if I wanted to be a Northern Advisor, I wondered what that was and what I would be doing. I wanted to find out and learn more. I wanted to go out and learn; I wanted to know what was happening with this fund; and why people were coming up here (Leaf Rapids, South Indian Lake in 2014) to visit. I guess for me I agreed for the learning experience and to meet new people and to gain new knowledge.
So now that you have been doing it for a while, what do you see as your role as a Northern Advisor?
Our role is to guide you guys, because you don’t get to see what we have seen and what we grew up with. We tell you what bad choices some people are making, what good choices people are making. I have been part of two bands (Granville Lake & O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation) and I have gotten to experience different things.
In South Indian Lake (OPCN) it’s the hydroelectric dam that has flooded everything and messed up the water and fish. In Granville it was the sewage system that backed up and made everyone so sick that we had to evacuate the community. In both communities stuff happened, and I learned.
It’s interesting to hear other communities trying to go those avenues (sewer systems, hydro dams) and I’ve been through that. If you don’t get the right people you could have people getting sick, you could lose your fish. Our role is to help you understand some of these things.