Paradise Outside of Heaven

The smell of fresh bannock drifted into her room, gently waking her from her dreams. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and stretched her arms above her head, and smiled. This is the way she awoke every morning, and it was the best part of her day. She could hear Moshum and Kokum bustling around getting things ready for the day, and she jumped out of bed feeling thankful for the good life she has. There was a slight chill in the air that told her fall was coming, which meant harvesting. She dressed quickly and was greeted with a big hug as she walked into the kitchen. “Hello, my girl, her kokum said with a loving smile, have a seat.” Like every morning, there on the table was a warm bowl of porridge sprinkled with brown sugar and a cup of her favorite laboom tea. Her grandparents sat down, and they all bowed their heads in prayer, feeling very blessed as they thanked the Creator for all the gifts. After the morning meal, she got ready for school, and as she skipped along to meet the bus, she looked back at her home, realizing she was already missing them. During the week, she lived with her grandparents and attended school in the Métis settlement of Gift Lake, Alberta. On the weekends, she spent time with her parents in the town of McLennan, both homes exposing her to so many different experiences.

 Her grandparents were a big part of her life. She was her Moshums shadow, his little Nosim, and she followed him everywhere he went. He was larger than life, a patient and majestic man with a kind and giving heart, and he took the time to teach her everything he knew. There was never a shortage of things to do and learn, and even when he thought she wasn’t watching, she always was. He taught her how to track animals, shoot, hunt, fish, trap, cut and butcher a moose, and set snares for rabbits while instilling love and respect for nature. There was always prayer and giving thanks for everything they received, never taking more than needed.

 Her grandparents, Raymond and Amy Laboucan, were a tag team of traditional knowledge holders, and they shared with her what had been passed down to them. They knew the importance of passing those gifts down to her, and when she wasn’t learning with one, she was learning from the other. Her days were filled with teachings, but she was having fun, never knowing at the time, she was part of something so much bigger.  She was seen as a young child, but she was keenly aware learning the traditional knowledge her grandparents passed down to her was a privilege and an education that would serve her and her future.

 Her kokum taught her berry picking, canning, drying and storing plants for medicines, smoking moose meat, making bannock, and cooking over the fire. She taught her the gifts from an animal were never to be wasted because everything had a use. The eyes, brains, nose, organs were all consumed. The bones were used to make tools, the hide of a moose was used for making moccasins, jackets, gloves, even rope. All they needed surrounded them in nature. The time she spent with her kokum was somewhat different from her Moshum. Her Kokum had a kind glow about her, and her laugh put a smile on everyone’s face that she met. When people came to their home, stories were always shared, and no one left hungry. She taught her more than basic needs; she also learned about the things you cannot see. She gave wisdom and love freely and taught her as long as she says her prayers, she will never walk the earth alone.

 When she got home from school, her moshum let her know they were leaving for camp in the morning. She was so excited to go as it was one of her favorite times of the year. Family and friends, best buddies, aunts, and uncles, coming together, setting up camp, and collectively harvesting to prepare for the winter months ahead. She stood around watching the adults pack and load up for the trip, always learning how they did things. They traveled for about an hour and a half from Gift Lake to Whitefish River Alberta, and when they arrived, Four families were already there. They moved swiftly, unloading and setting up. Her moshum started cutting all the wood needed to set up the canvas tent and the racks to dry the moose meat and fish. After the tent was assembled and the fire stove and stack was up, her kokum started setting up the inside of the tent. She walked in and inhaled the smell; there was something about the smell of the tent she loved so much. They busied themselves with starting the fire to heat the water, and she giggled to herself. The last time they were harvesting, her kokum had a coil burning in the tent to chase away the mosquitoes. It smelled so bad in there; she stuck Vicks up her nose to get rid of the smell. They were almost done; all they needed to do was put the Hudson bay wool blankets on the bed, get the grub box, and everything was finished.

 She walked out of the tent and looked around at all the hustle and bustle of everyone doing something, and for a moment, time stood still. Wherever she looked, someone cut down trees to set up the smoke shacks for fish, a meat drying rack or building the structure over the fire to hang water to boil. Someone was putting together a tent and places to eat and rest. She took a breath in, and the fresh air of her surroundings made her realize that she knew she would always be home whenever she was surrounded by mother earth.

That night the families and friends gathered around the dancing fire. They all took turns talking about days of old and sharing stories that sparked endless cackling and knee slaps. She enjoyed this time because she loved listening to the elders’ and knew one day that it would be her sharing her stories. With a big yawn, she crawled into her kokum’s lap and, out of habit, started to twirl her braids. It was a long day, and the week would be a busy one, but truth be told, she wouldn’t have it any other way because this life to her was paradise outside of heaven…

 Beverly Lambert