Authors: Tomson Highway
Copyright © Tomson Highway 1998
Anchor Canada edition 2005
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
Highway, Tomson, 1951—
Kiss of the fur queen
PS8565.1433K57 1999 C813′.54 C98-931194-5
Published in Canada by
Anchor Canada, a division of
Random House of Canada Limited
Igwani igoosi, n’seemis
he dream world of North American Indian mythology is inhabited by the most fantastic creatures, beings and events. Foremost among these beings is the “Trickster,” as pivotal and important a figure in our world as Christ is in the realm of Christian mythology. “Weesageechak” in Cree, “Nanabush” in Ojibway, “Raven” in others, “Coyote” in still others, this Trickster goes by many names and many guises. In fact, he can assume any guise he chooses. Essentially a comic, clownish sort of character, his role is to teach us about the nature and the meaning of existence on the planet Earth; he straddles the consciousness of man and that of God, the Great Spirit.
The most explicit distinguishing feature between the North American Indian languages and the European languages is that in Indian (e.g. Cree, Ojibway), there is no gender. In Cree, Ojibway, etc., unlike English, French, German, etc., the male-female-neuter hierarchy is entirely absent. So that by this system of thought, the central hero figure from our mythology — theology, if you will — is theoretically neither exclusively male nor exclusively female, or is both simultaneously.
Some say that Weesaceechak left this continent when the white man came. We believe she/he is still here among us — albeit a little the worse for wear and tear — having assumed other guises. Without the continued presence of this extraordinary figure, the core of Indian culture would be gone forever.
here are many people to whom gratitude has to be expressed for the support, inspiration, faith, and love that they gave me during the writing of this book. In alphabetical order, they are: William Aide, Keith Anderson, Merrick Emlyn Anderson, Lilly Barnes, Micah Barnes, Elizabeth Bateman, Linda Beath, Jack Blum, Denise Bolduc, Elaine Bomberry, Peter Bomberry, Rita Bomberry, my agent Denise Bukowski, Jim Burt, Catherine Cahill, Tantoo Cardinal, Teresa Castonguay, Kennetch Charlette, Celia Chassels, Marsha Coffey, Cathie Cooper, Sharon Corder, Dale Crosby, James Cullingham, Jennifer Dean, my agent Suzanne DePoe, David Doze (Vox Management), David Earle, Bernice Eisenstein, Gloria Eshkibok, Barker Fairley, Jonathon Forbes, Carol Hay, William (Bill) Henderson, Daniel Highway, Pelagie Highway, Kathleen Jamieson, Edwin Jebb, Alexie Lalonde-Steedman, Florence Lalonde, my partner Raymond Lalonde, Thérèse Lalonde, Jani Lauzon, Larry Lewis, Doris Linklater, Edna Manitowabi, Tina Mason, Pamela Matthews, Maya Mavjee, Elva McCoy, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Linda Merasty, Louise Merasty, William (Billy) Merasty, Mary Jane McCallum, Gloria Montero, Jim Morris, Rena Morrison, Daniel David Moses, John Neale, Maxine Noel, Margarita Orszag, Ken Pitawanakwat, James Reaney, Anne Robbins, Svend Robinson, Carol Rowntree, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jaydeen Sanderson, Jenna Sanderson, Jennifer Sanderson, Jonathon (Little Joe) Sanderson, Don Sedgwick, Richard Silver, Mary Stockdale, Iris Turcott, Isabel Vincent, my editor Charis Wahl, Don Winkler, and everyone at Doubleday. As well, the following institutions are to be recognized for their generosity: the Canada Council, Concordia University, Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and University College (University of Toronto). Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Lastly, a heartfelt thanks has to be extended to the storytellers of my people, the myth-makers, the weavers of dreams. For it is on their shoulders that we, the current and upcoming generation of Native writers, stand. Without them, we would have no way of telling our stories and, ultimately, no stories to tell.
This book, of course, is a novel — all the characters and what happens to them are fictitious. Moreover, some liberty has been taken with the chronology of certain historical events — the Fur Queen beauty pageant, for instance. As a certain philosopher of ancient Greece once put it, the difference between the historian and poet/storyteller is that where the historian relates what happened, the storyteller tells us how it might have come about.
“Use your utmost endeavours to dissuade the Indians from excessive
indulgence in the practice of dancing.”
—From a letter by Duncan Campbell Scott,
Deputy Superintendant General of the
Department of Indian Affairs, Ottawa, Canada
sent out as a circular on December 15, 1921.
“At night, when the streets of your cities and villages are silent, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them, and still love this beautiful land. The whiteman will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people. For the dead are not powerless.”
—Chief Seattle of the Squamish, 1853,
translated by Dr. Henry Smith.
the hunter cried into the wind. Through the rising vapour of a northern Manitoba February, so crisp, so dry, the snow creaked underfoot, the caribou hunter Abraham Okimasis drove his sled and team of eight grey huskies through the orange-rose-tinted dusk. His left hand gripping handlebar of sled, his right snapping moose-hide whip above his head, Abraham Okimasis was urging his huskies forward.
The desperation in his voice, like a man about to sob, surprised him.
Abraham Okimasis could see, or thought he could, the finish line a mile away. He could also see other mushers, three, maybe four. Which meant forty more behind him. But what did these forty matter? What mattered was that, so close to the end, he was not leading. What mattered was that he was not going to win the race.
And he was so tired, his dogs beyond tired, so tired they would have collapsed if he was to relent.
the sole word left that could feed them, dogs and master both, with the will to travel on.
Three days. One hundred and fifty miles of low-treed tundra, ice-covered lakes, all blanketed with at least two feet of snow — fifty miles per day — a hundred and fifty miles of freezing temperatures and freezing winds. And the finish line mere yards ahead.
The shafts of vapour rising from the dogs’ panting mouths, the curls of mist emerging from their undulating backs, made them look like insubstantial wisps of air.
the hunter cried to his lead dog. “Tiger-Tiger,
He had sworn to his dear wife, Mariesis Okimasis, on pain of separation and divorce, unthinkable for a Roman Catholic in the year of our Lord 1951, that he would win the world championship just for her: the silver cup, that holy chalice was to be his twenty-first-anniversary gift to her. With these thoughts racing through his fevered mind, Abraham Okimasis edged past musher number 54 — Jean-Baptiste Ducharme of Cranberry Portage. Still not good enough.
Half a mile to the finish line — he could see the banner now, a silvery white with bold black lettering, though he couldn’t make out the words.
Mushers numbers 32 and 17, so close, so far: Douglas Ballantyne of Moosoogoot, Saskatchewan, at least twenty yards ahead, and Jackson Butler of Flin Flon, Manitoba, another ten ahead of that.
the sound a bark into the wind.
“Please, please, God in heaven, let me win this race,” a voice inside the caribou hunter’s body whispered, “and I will thank you with every deed, every touch, every breath for the rest of my long life, for hallowed be thy name …” The prayer strung itself, word by word, like a rosary, pulling him along, bead by bead by bead, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth …”
Less than half a prayer and already God the Father was answering. Wasn’t that his voice Abraham Okimasis could hear in the northwest wind? Less than a quarter of a mile to go, he was sure of it, and already he had passed musher number 32, Douglas Ballantyne of Moosoogoot. And now, not forty yards away, the banner hovered over the finish line like the flaming sword of the angel guarding paradise — “The World Champion’ship Dog Derby, Trappers’ Festival, Oopaskooyak, Manitoba, February 23—25, 1951!” And now musher number 21, Abraham Okimasis of Eemanapiteepitat, Manitoba, was only ten feet behind musher number 17, Jackson Butler of Flin Flon, the finish line not thirty yards away. Twenty-five. Twenty. Fifteen. Ten …