The River’s Edge

The chilly morning air greeted him as he stepped out of his family’s warm cabin. He didn’t expect it to be so cold.  And even though he was used to it, he was surprised. Winter had arrived. With his rifle slung over his back, he bent over to pick up the buckets for water and set off for the two-mile walk to the river’s edge. The air was silent except for the crunch of his moccasins on top of the fallen snow. This was his morning routine, and he was especially thankful for it today as it gave him time to think. Life was good, and he thought to himself, allowing the full weight of his new rifle to settle on his back. He had just turned 12 years old and was still feeling the effects of the day his uncle had presented him with his very own hunting rifle. He was taught, the land provided everything he needed to survive in life, but truth be told, he couldn’t remember a day when he had felt such pride owning something he could hold.

He considered himself a man now.  And ever since he could remember, he trailed behind the elders from his hometown of Wabasca, Alberta. Silent in his learning, he was a quick study who did his best to be productive by helping out and staying quiet while listening to mother nature and the messages she carries. He tried his best to always be present and in the moment, learning about the land, the animals, their seasons, tracks, food, and water sources. To walk with very little noise, have patience, respect, and to be still for long periods of time. He didn’t grow up with a dad and sought out every opportunity he could to learn from a community of elders who knew no other life than the one he wanted. It was considered a privilege to be included in these outings and learning what had been passed down for hundreds of years before his time. There was more to the hunt; it was an education, and what he was learning would contribute to his family and community.

If he wasn’t helping his mom and grandmother around the cabin, he was out hunting or fishing the days away. His kokum, Marie Gullion, took him with her to pick berries and taught him about herbs and plants. Starting in spring, they traveled the half day-long journey by horse and wagon to their traditional picking areas, meeting families from all over the community. Blueberries, high-bush cranberries, strawberries, raspberries were plentiful to pick even though he probably ate more than was saved. As he continued to walk, he thought about their time together; he understood it was more than picking berries. It was about people being together, sharing and listening to an exchange of culture and history, realizing the past was just as important as the future.

Once he arrived at the river’s edge, he set the buckets down and caught a glimpse of his reflection staring back at him. He was a proud young Métis man who discovered his need for independence and a thirst to lead his own way. He felt impatient and wanted to prove himself but was told he wasn’t ready. At times, he admitted he struggled with his identity because there was so much shame from the outside world. A world that thought they knew who he should be and tried stripping away his language and culture. A world took the children away and tried to eliminate everything they were because of ignorance and fear. There had been so many sacrifices made from his ancestors who created the life he was living, and as he stared at his reflection, he made a promise to himself and them. To preserve his cultural traditions and bring honor to his ancestors, to teach future generations, and always be proud to call himself Métis.

As he made his way back home, the sun’s glitter danced through the trees warming him from the bitter breeze. He looked behind him and noticed the swirling winds were determined to erase his footsteps as quickly as he made them. Even though they were no longer visible, just like his ancestors, he knew they were there and always would be…