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Authors: Deborah Ellis

Looks Like Daylight (13 page)

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedom of our great land. So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.

—
Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh First Nation (Burrard Band of North Vancouver )

Marissa, 14

The Cherokee Nation's original homeland is in the eastern United States, in the area around North Carolina and Tennessee. When gold was discovered on this land, the Cherokee were forced by the government on a long walk out of their territory. This became known as the Trail of Tears, as many lives were lost along the way.

The Cherokee Nation settled in Oklahoma. Marissa has been singing with the Cherokee National Youth Choir for three years.

I've been all over the United States with the choir, from California on the west coast to North Carolina on the east coast. I've been all over Oklahoma. We sing in the smallest churches in the smallest towns and the biggest amphitheaters, for Native audiences and for mixed audiences. We go into a lot of Native American churches to sing, and we perform at festivals and conferences. It's fantastic. I get to go to a lot of cool places and meet interesting people from all over the world. We've met some famous people too. When the Tulsa Hard Rock opened up — it's owned by the Cherokee — our principal chief wanted our choir to be the first performers on the stage. We sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a blessing song. We opened for the group Foghat.

My grandmother works for the Cherokee Nation archives and she told me about the choir because she knows I love to sing. I had to audition for a place. The audition was scary because I had to sing in front of people I'd never met before. But I'm glad I didn't let the fear stop me because joining the choir is the best thing I've ever done.

The audition was really the easy part. Once you join the choir, the hard work starts. You have to learn the Cherokee language. All our songs are in Cherokee, except for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We sing the first half of that in Cherokee and the second half we sing in English.

Cherokee is hard! It's completely different grammar from English. Instead of letters it uses syllabary — 86 different characters that relate to the sounds or syllables in the words. Once you catch on, it's easy. Well, maybe not easy, but once you train yourself to learn the syllabary and think a different way about words, then you can get it. I like knowing it.

When we perform, we wear traditional Cherokee clothing. Girls wear traditional dresses made with cotton and ribbon. Guys wear ribbon shirts — cotton shirts with ribbon sewn on them vertically and horizontally.

We also wear a lot of Native American jewelry, but not a lot of the turquoise that most people think of as Native jewelry. Turquoise isn't from Cherokee territory. We make clay bead necklaces. We roll bits of clay into little beads and run a string through them. We make corn bead necklaces too.

The Cherokee people now living in Oklahoma are the descendants of those who ended up here after the Trail of Tears

The Cherokee of Oklahoma don't have a reservation. We have our tribal headquarters in Tahlequah and we have legislative jurisdiction over fourteen counties.

I find it interesting to think of how what happened in history decides what's going on today. I live in Oklahoma instead of North Carolina because of what people decided back in the 1800s. So I have to think about my decisions carefully, to be careful to have a good result in the future.

My mother works as the housing manager at the university, helping students find a place to live. My father is an LPN at the hospital.

When I look around at the other members of the choir, I sometimes think about all the people we're related to in the past, that all our families had roles to play in the history of the Cherokee people. My friend Sophie, one of her relatives was Hair Conrad. He was a Cherokee council member at the time of the Trail of Tears.

But I don't think about that too much, especially not during rehearsals because we're kept busy working then.

These days we're starting work on a CD of patriotic songs. Right now we're learning the songs. In the summer we'll go to a recording studio in Tulsa to record them.

The choir has many CDs out now. I've been involved with a few of them. Being in a recording studio is awesome! There's a kitchen with drinks and snacks and most of the time the studio people will say you can have anything you want out of the fridge! And there are lots of places to lounge and relax while other people are recording. We don't goof around though. Being there out in the professional world makes us want to act like professionals. But it is really cool to say, “I've just spent the day in the recording studio!”

When a lot of people think of Native Americans they think about poverty and drug abuse and bad schools. I know there are communities that struggle with that. I've heard about the residential schools and Native Americans being stuck on reservations where the soil is rocky and won't grow anything. It's terrible, and people should know about it so it can get better.

But people should also know that in the Cherokee district, we have great schools. The high school uses a lot of technology. Every student has their own laptop. We have opportunities to go everywhere and do everything. I think Indian country has some of the worst schools in the United States and it also has some of the best.

The future is wide open to me.

The Cherokee National Youth Choir is on Facebook.

We know our lands are now become more valuable: the white people think we do not know their value; but we are sensible that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone.

—
Canassatego-Mingo,
Six Nations Chief

Lane, 14

Lacrosse originated with the people of the Ongwehonwe Haudenosaunee, or Six Nations, the People of the Longhouse
—
Tuscarora, Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga and Onondaga. Similar games were played by other nations like the Seminole, Choctaw and Sioux. Also known as the Ancient Game or the Creator's Game, its purpose was
—
and for some still is
—
spiritual. It is offered up to the Creator as a prayer for healing or as an expression of gratitude. Some people are given miniature lacrosse sticks when they are born, and when they pass on to the next life, a lacrosse stick is placed next to them in the casket.

Lane is in grade nine. He is part of the latest generation of lacrosse players in his family.

I'm from the Iroquois Confederacy, and I live on the Six Nations Reserve on the Grand River in southern Ontario. I have four brothers and four sisters. I'm in the middle. My father works in security and my mother passed away when I was young. I live on the reserve with my dad's mom, her daughter and boyfriend and their baby and one sister and little cousins.

I've been playing lacrosse for over ten years. When I was really small, my dad put a little lacrosse stick in my hand, and that was that. It's like I was born to it. And I sort of was. There are at least six generations of lacrosse players in my family. My family has been on this land for at least six generations. Probably a whole lot longer than that.

My grandfather is still alive. He used to play on a lacrosse team and he got paid for it too. He also worked in factories.

I play on three teams — the Six Nations Warriors Home Club, Team Iroquois, which is a Canadian national team, and Edge Lacrosse. Edge does mostly exhibition games, the sort of games scouts come to looking for players to give scholarships to. It's Native and non-Native, but the white kids on the team don't give us any hassles. They love the game as much as we do.

I'm hoping to go to Syracuse University on a lacrosse scholarship. I'd want to study something in the field of science. Environmental science, maybe, or biology, or maybe space science. Not sure yet.

My home is only five minutes away from this arena, so I'm here usually at least four days a week. I love it. They know me here and they give me responsibilities. I like helping out and being a part of things.

One of the things I do is help out with girls' teams. I play in goal for the Six Nations Under 15 Girls. They don't have a goalie.

Lacrosse has been played by my people since forever, since long before your people came here. The Iroquois played it, the Lakota, the Seminole, the Choctaw. We all played some version of it.

Winning or losing isn't the point. We play it to honor the Creator who made us. So we have to play the very best we can, all the time.

Lacrosse was also traditionally a way of working out disagreements between tribes. It's also used as a healing ceremony, a form of medicine, and to get warriors ready and in shape for war.

Lacrosse is a fast game. When we play in the arena, there are eighteen runners and two goalies. When we play in a field outside, there can be forty players.

We didn't name it lacrosse. The French priests called it that back in the 1600s. They said that the stick reminded them of the Shepherd's Cross, which in French is la crosse.

My ancestors used a game of lacrosse to attack a British fort. It was in the 1700s, I think. The British kicked out the French but were not treating the Native people very well. So the Natives made a plan. They started a big lacrosse game outside the fort. The British soldiers all watched and got drunk and forgot about doing their jobs. One of our warriors tossed a ball inside the fort, and the drunk British soldiers just opened the door and let them walk in to get it. And that's when the warriors attacked!

I love being at the lacrosse arena. You walk in and it's clean and bright with shiny white walls. There are photos of Gaylord Powless and Bill Isaacs, probably two of the greatest players who ever lived. They came from here. They have old team jerseys in a display case, team photos from really long ago in the 1960s. You know you're a part of something that has gone way back, and this is just the present day of it. It will go way into the future too.

When I play at big games and there's lots of cheering, I think of it being the same cheering that happened hundreds of years ago, and I feel like I'm someone who lived and played a long time ago or that someone who lived and played a long time ago is living again when I play. It's hard to explain.

When I'm not here at the arena I hang out with my cousins. I go to traditional things on the reserve. Powwows and Aboriginal Day and things like that. Every year we have Bread and Cheese Day, to remember when Queen Victoria said she would give us bread and cheese to thank us for our help in the War of 1812. Well, she started off giving us blankets, but switched to bread and cheese because that was a lot cheaper. It's a big day with music and rides at the fair grounds. I like techno music and traditional music, and my favorite food is corn soup. I don't have a pet personally, but my aunt who I live with has a hairless cat named Varekai. She bought it online.

When I go to Brantford to shop at one of the malls, sometimes I hear people — white people, adults and kids — saying racist things, and I think, oh, grow up, and then I get on with my day.

Cassie, 17

Cassie attends Frontier Collegiate in Cranberry Portage. It's a boarding high school in northern Manitoba for students from remote fly-in communities that have no high school of their own. It used to be a military base, and remnants of the base can still be seen around the school. Although there have been great strides forward in online education, barriers still exist, such as access to computers and over-crowded, poorly constructed homes that make studying impossible. Students who attend Frontier must choose between being with their families and being educated.

Cassie's family lives in Cormorant, a small community in Manitoba.

I was born in The Pas, but lived in Cormorant my whole life. Cormorant is small and you know everybody. If you don't know what to do with yourself, you just walk outside and meet someone you know and maybe they'll suggest something.

In the summer there's swimming at the bridge. The town is on a lake by a provincial park so it's pretty. There's camping at Moose Lake and hunting. That's what my family usually does for Thanksgiving and Easter. I went moose hunting once when I was younger. It was scary because I was quite young and there was a lot I didn't know about surviving and being in the wild. Plus I'd heard the stories about how bad-tempered moose can get.

I go chicken hunting on my own. I take my dog and off we go. It's exciting to see something moving around in the bush and you know you can turn it into a good meal for your family. And I love bass fishing. I just catch them and my brother or Dad or Papa or Grandma clean them.

My mother was born in Cormorant and my dad was born in Nelson House, Manitoba. He's part of the Nisichawayasihk Cree First Nation.

His father was taken to a residential school, Red Deer Industrial School. It was really bad there. He was really traumatized.

He managed to run away from the school when he was sixteen. He made it home to see his mother but she had died eight years before. The school didn't bother to tell him.

While he was back home he met my grandmother and they had my dad. They were so afraid Dad would be taken away. The government would just swoop in and take kids. They took him and a couple of the older girls in the community who were also at risk of being taken by the government and they hid them away on the trapline. They just stayed in the bush all year round. My grandfather would see them when he could. He worked some distance away and could only get the train when his work would let him.

My father was eighteen or nineteen when he came off the trapline. Since then, all he's done is work. He said he felt dumb because he couldn't read, but he still got a lot of work on building sites because he was so strong and capable. He helped build the Super 8 Motel in The Pas.

He knows how to read a little now. He learned along with me when I was going to school, but he's very slow at it. I do most of his reading for him.

Gathering circle at Cassie's school

I love my dad and I'm really proud of him.

His father was an alcoholic from being traumatized at the residential school. Dad started drinking when I was young, so Mom kicked him out. She didn't want us to be around that kind of chaos. I only got to really know him when I was twelve or thirteen.

He fought forest fires in British Columbia for a while. At one fire a tree fell and hit him, sent him rolling off down a hill. He was hurt bad in that. Two years after that he was driving down the highway and a semi truck slid on a patch of ice and slammed into his car. His legs were smashed so bad that a lot of his bone had to be replaced with metal.

He's doing pretty good now. He's quit drinking. He's on pain pills which he wants to get off of, but every time he tries to quit he says it feels like there are bugs crawling all over him and he gets really sick. Those pain pills are terrible things.

Mom graduated from high school. She's a counselor now at the school.

Cormorant is mostly Métis. Some families have been there for generations. One of the girls I know at this school, her ancestor was one of the founders of the town, and her family is still there.

A lot of the houses are crowded and in bad shape, and people have to wait a really long time for a new house. Most have way more people living in them than they have room for. They sleep in living rooms, on kitchen floors, wherever. It's that way for a lot of kids in a lot of communities. When they come to this school they get their own room in the dorm and they're not used to it, so they'll double up, sleep on their neighbor's floor, just because they feel too alone at night.

Cormorant is nice. It's quiet and surrounded by bush. A lot of the houses are run-down though. It looks like people are really just hanging in. But there's stuff to do like walk on trails through the bush. People set traplines just like their ancestors did. We have Métis Days, Aboriginal Days. In the winter there's snowshoeing, goose and moose calling. It's good. I like it. But it's hard too, living there. When something bad happens, it's really hard to get away.

I like this school. I like the computer lab, the library, and that there are traditional singers and drummers. There's not much to do in the town. Most of the shops are shut. There's a little store we all walk to where we can get chips and chocolate bars and burgers, but there's no place to sit and eat your burger. You have to take it with you.

I'm good at my classes, like math, English, biology. All of them, really. I'm not yet sure what I want to do. I think I'd like to adopt a kid when I get older. My mother does respite care for the Children's Aid. She watches kids and takes them to see their parents. I think I would like to adopt because then I can have a child without having to deal with the child's father. A husband would be more work than a kid. It would be easier to do it all myself.

When I was fourteen, I couldn't stand Cormorant anymore and needed to get out. I moved in with Dad. He was living in The Pas, and then we moved to Winnipeg. The city seemed like a lot of work. I had to take a long bus ride to get to school. I couldn't just walk down the path. And there were all these cars and all these people and so much noise. I didn't like it. I wasn't ready for it.

I'm graduating from high school this year and then I'm off to college.

I'm ready for the city now.

BOOK: Looks Like Daylight
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