Christmas Festivities

This week's excitement in pictures....

Gingerbread cookie resemblance contest!

WE made too many so I ate all the nudies. The 5 year old esmeralda was so funny when she was decorating she was licking all the knives them decorating the cookies and eating them right after so there weren't any for judging.

Karaoke Night

Hayley hosts Jean Marie's First Karaoke Night....

                                 It was a success! I am working on gathering a crowd for it. This is the first time in two weeks we actually got people organized enough to come. Everyone gets their pay checks every two weeks and goes out of town for reasons good and bad so we had to change the day. All the equipment was pretty well trashed when I got there because the rec leader was fired this past week and hadn't bothered to put any of the microphones or music away.I  overcame my anger and brought my own stuff and the show went on.... The kids sang a lot of johnny cash and miley cyrus, an interesting evening cocktail of music.

The 12 days of Christmas North

I have been spending long grueling hours painting giant boxes to look like presents for the infamous Louie Norwegian Christmas concert. Every time I set the kids up to paint they mix the colours and paint tribal masks on their faces so I have given up and now have to make 4 more giant boxes and matching bows. It was my brilliant idea to make it all out of recyclable materials so I am ripping out magazine pages and scrounging for cans and egg cartons to decorate with. Not so easy because all the kids, along with the janitor and others who are scrounging for petty cash to support drug habits, hoard these for the spring when the recycling people come and pay them $5 a bag for all the cans they have collected over the year. 
Anyways I am sure it will be glorious when they all mutter the song and hold up these obsenely large packages I have created, opening them to show their drawings inside for each day. Each kid is also performing a Christmas carol solo which I have trusted them to practice outside of school, so it should all be very interesting. Apparently last year the concert was 2 hours of Christmas solos so i didn't want to mess with the usual formula and introduce something bearable. 
Here is a link to my song.... 12 days of christmas north


Northern Lights

I have started taking walks around town after supper the silence and stillness of the trees and the houses, and the people is amazing. the past couple of nights I have bundled up and journeyed out after making Terry promise me he would come looking for me after half and hour just in cause I slip and die on the black ice or get mauled by bears or huskies or moose.... I have been taking my camera and risking frost bite to get pictures of the stars but dispute their astounding brightness no such luck. I walk around the corner from my house into the forest and just sit on the ground in the snow and look up to the panoramic view of the night sky. And I lay there and stare at the north star which seems to be a hundred times brighter than all the others and am mesmerized until I start worrying about the bear behind me that I can not hear because my parka is buttoned up to my nose and all i can hear is the noise of my own thoughts. 
yesterday night I walked down along the 'beach,' to take in the sweet smoke than envelopes the town every evening from the family's wood burning chimneys and looked up along the water to see the northern lights. huge blue streaks in the sky and a stripe of blue circling the island across from Jean Marie (in the northerly direction)  just inches above the tree tops. It made me stop and think about what Canada was before colonization and wonder how many more treasures of nature these people experience in the north everyday every year. the little houses lining the beach looked beautiful with their fuming chimneys and empty little dog huts buried deep in the snow, everyone inside with the warmth for the night. 



Florence has been Louie Norwegian's school janitor for the past 20 years. She is the daughter- in- law of Sara Hardisty, the eldest elder. She comes in at 4:00 each day wearing a big knit t shirt with no bra and a sweet yet confused crumpled little smile. When I first met her I was shocked that she was so determinedly working at such old age- she has long gray hair and limps around listlessly- but then i found out that she was only 56 years old. Her alcoholic, abusive husband has aged her considerably. She often walks in, pauses, sits down, waits and waits until someone gives in and takes the time to visit with her. A working day ends up being about 45 minutes for Florence, the rest of the 2 hours she is scheduled to work are occupied by conversation and blank stares. This bothered me at first but now I love Florence. She has a funny, quiet sense of humour and I have learned that if you start doing one of her clean up tasks she will finish it out, 60/40. She constantly forgets how many children she has but still insists on counting them on her fingers every time she brings up her family. Of course one died in the fire and the other killed himself with a hunting rifle, she tells me everyday. She has 14 brothers and sisters and only knows one of them. Her daughter was in a car accident and was nearly completely paralyzed so she is in a wheel chair. Florence lives with her and spends most of her time caring for her, cooking, chopping wood and trying to convince her to stop drinking. She gets pretty fed up some days. She says once the ice bridge is built she is going to push her across and hope she rolls all the way to civilization. 

Hot Dog Offering

Today we had a hot dog lunch for the community to mark addictions awareness week. The kids all made posters about the evils of addiction,s many of them with a little too detailed pictures of bottles, bongs and crack pipes, which I found scary considering they are 10-14 years old. There was a sense of great familiarity in these objects for them. We pinned the pictures up in the community for the elders and other members of the community to look a while eating. On the bulletin board where all the news goes up I noticed that they had written hot dog lunch celebrating national children's day, interesting. Sara, Jean Marie's eldest elder made an offering of a fully dressed hot dog to a small bonfire that was stationed right outside the band hall, and said a prayer in Slavey, kissing and clutching her rosary tight. She is sweet looking, she has a friendly turned in mouth, her lips form a cave around her teeth and her hair is fine and cut short. She looks like a first nations raggedy Anne doll but her hands tell you she was part of a generation of first nations whose salvation was the bush, hard work and struggle was a way of life. The other community members that attended mostly just stared me down when I introduced myself and had little  to say about recent affairs in the town. Big long tables of silent people. One man came up to me and offered to take me trapping in a few weeks. Could be days could be years. Or maybe that was a pick up line?

While I was cleaning up the smelly hot dog pots and carrying the bottles back to the cupboards in the gym's bathroom- sized canteen I noticed that a whole table of band members were watching me. I later found out that they were wondering if i am Canadian, employable and would I like to be the band's secretary treasurer??



The Whetagu

as told to Jackie Wanderspirit by her grandmother

This is a Cree story. A long time ago a family went to the bush for a while, there were parents and two children. One very clear day in the winter time, the children were playing, the mother was cooking and the father was out hunting. When the father came back he was empty handed.
 As it grew dark the wind grew stronger, then it started to snow. it was snowing so hard you couldn't see in front of you. The family hovered around the little wood stove while the wind whistled and the trees swished around their log cabin. They started to worry but their father told them not to worry and that the storm would end soon so they fell asleep. 
When they woke they were surprised to see the storm was still raging. The father could not see outside of the window because of the snow. They knew the storm was still wild because they could hear it outside. Three days passed and the family's food supply was running low. By the time the night came the food was all gone. They had to wait out the storm. The father could not handle it anymore. He ate his family to survive the storm. After this, his mind went out of control. When the storm was just settling down he made his way out of the cabin to look for more food. As soon as he got outside the storm picked up again. 
So my grandma said that when you are playing outside and it gets dark and it starts to get windy and snowing hard to go back in the house because the Whetagu is coming to look for his next meal. So when a storm comes at night just out of the blue, you'll know who it is.  


You know it's -20 when your nostrils stick together and you get a cold burning sensation up your throat  when you breathe through your mouth. The boots I brought from home are giving out to the cold and my fingers have started to freeze inside my gloves at recess. The moon is as bright when I walk to school as when I walk home. 
I read the "Jean Marie Memoirs," a book put together by some of the more literate members of the community. It is very engaging, it tells the life stories of some of the elders and traces their families back to the three sisters that founded the community. The founding family's names are Norwegian, Hardisty, Sanguez and Sake I believe. Jean Marie originally served as a camp area for men on fishing trips until one of the elders told the people to built a community where their kids could be educated on the land. It was a good place because of its proximity to Kelly Lake and other fertile waters where they could be certain jackfish would be found. 10 families lived here in the beginning and it was a very peaceful, isolated community. Everyone spoke Slavey and men did men's work- hunting, trapping, setting nets, chopping wood, and women did women's work- kids, preparing meat, cooking, preparing moose hides, sewing, beading etc. When men came home from hunting they shard their kill evenly with the rest of the families, the kids respected their elders and no one was lazy or drunk. The only time people could afford to charter the plane to Fort Simpson was for doctors check ups every three months. The school came to jean Marie in 1958 and was named after an elder of the community who died in a boating accident and fell through the ice of the Jean Marie River (Louie Norwegian). The elders in the book speak a lot about the value of hard work, how life is work and a native man's life should be work in nature. Meat was prepared daily by drying and smoking it and drinking water was drawn from the river after digging a hole through the ice, or big pales of snow where brought inside to melt. 


Hay River Saturday November 15th

We set out on the drive to Hay River at 5 am this morning. The skyline was amazing for the last hour and a half, it looked like the tips of the trees were aflame in fuchsia and magenta, gold and orange. The radio transmission went on and off, potions included CBC or a country station from Calgary and the trees went from being a metre high to 20 metres only a half a km down the road. You drive through so many different kinds of soil along the same road. We arrived around 8:30 and had breakfast in a motel surrounded by northern men wearing caps and light jeans and rubber boots. The food was surprising good. Terry got his winter tires and we did some scouting around for the presents the kids had asked for for Christmas. the owners of the general stores each want to provide you a better secret deal then the next one. Each greasy little man or elderly woman has a different sales pitch and talks in a quick clever whisper. We made some good finds. We have to go back and actually buy them because the school board has to provide the cash, which like everything else will take FOREVER. Hay River is about the size of grand forks, a little bit bigger actually and has all services, even french immersion. Although the libraries don't have colour photocopies like i had hoped and i saw a few drunk native men stumbling across the road. I me the principal of a school in Kinaska, which is about 3 hours from where I am. She is starting a dog team with her students. They have adopted five old huskies, although she told me two dogs would be more than enough power to pull the average person 100m/h. They often have to tie weights behind the sleds so the kids don't fall off. The power of twelve dogs in the big races must just be astounding. We drove to Great Slave lake which has the clearest water I have ever seen. It has a beautiful beach and looks almost tropical never mid the birch and spruce trees surrounding it and the cute little sail ships that are docked at the bank. There is a cannery and a little fishing community that consists of short wood shacks and bars with boarded up windows, the only buildings that survived the flood that overtook the area 25 years ago. Hay River is completely frozen with huge wave ridges all down the centre of it. very neat looking.I On the drive back i saw a brilliant red fox and a marten.I got to see the sun go down at 5:00, completing the day and giving the trees and snow this amazing clarity. Everything was glittering. The country music whined on into the evening and the conversation was easy.

Thursday November 13th

Today we got the kids to write their letters to Santa, i.e. Me. They get to choose a gift from one of the catalogues that is of 50 dollar value, which one of the 11 year old girls, the only academically inclined one, Alisha, called "cheap." They also complained that they had to write the letter because last year they did the entire thing online.  and then i vomited a little bit......

Apparently it takes the letters too long to go all the way to the Canada Post volunteers and back so we will just write the replies. I made the judging ballots for my karaoke nights, they are very cute, big coloured elementary looking numbers. Unfortunately it had to be cancelled this week because everyone was leaving for hay river Friday after school. including I. Even more unfortunate that no one told me, luckily I asked who was coming. The rec director will soon loose her job to a relative of a band member. She married into the reserve and is therefore considered a outsider no matter her involvement with the community and its children. Her daughter is in my school and is often mace to feel like an outsider by the other kids. She has stared hyphenating her name to have her mothers german name and her father's Slavey name on the end to up her status. Terry tells me that there is a scapegoat family in each community consisting of people that either married in or are of family lines that clash with the founding families of the community. The rec directors family is such and she will be kicked out at the bands convenience. The girl replacing her is the casual teaching assistant at the school who will soon be replaced by a permanent person and loose her job. It is especially unfortunate because she took the rec job as a favour to everyone because no one would or could fill the role. Blood lines are so binding. 

Wednesday November 12th

Well they shot the dog before I could decide so that's that. It was probably for the best anyways. All of the 6 puppies are gone from outside so I guess they took care of the whole litter in one go, what a waste. The social worker came to the school today and it turns out that more of the kids have learning disabilities and FAS then I had realized. And only one of the kids live with their birth parents. We are going to have some kind of addiction prevention activities because apparently some of the students are already struggling with the same addictions as their parents. I find this hard to believe, the oldest one in 14 and she is definetly not the one so it is very sad to think of who it could be. It was Terry and the 5 year old Esmerelda's birthday so I made a marble layer cake and some party hats. Good pictures for the newspaper:) 

Tuesday November 11- Holiday

Today was a perfect kind of day. The sun was brilliant, bouncing off the snow and shining in my eyes. I woke up early and decided to go for a long walk. I walked down to the landing strip, or what they call the airport, keeping a close eye out for the snow tractor that seemed to be gaining on me. The squirrels make the strangest sounds, like little wheels in music boxes turning and producing these hideously shrill little songs. I walked out on to the landing strip and then got nervous that a plane would speed in and land on me or the tractor would pull up behind and bury me in snow, or I would choose the wrong path and step on a rabbit snare so I started to walk back. i took a trail that had a lot of footprints in it and closely inspected the ground looking for what I imagined snares to look like, large mouth like traps that would crush my legs and make me stand in a painful position screaming for help all day until Terry flew in and started looking for me. A small rat ran across my path, marking the only excitment of the walk thank god. Terry later got back with my winter clothes with him. A parka, snow pant overalls, winter boots with a 10 cm rubber sole, a balaclava, a neck warmer, fleece longer underwear and under shirts, leather gloves that do all the way up to my elbows and would be a comfortable fit for my dad. We had a bit of a fashion show. The clothes put about an extra hundred pounds on my frame and force me to either roll or crawl or remain stationary. The goose down parka really smells like some kind of game meat. After we went on a drive to 'warm the car up.' The drive turned into a three hour trek in which we had a long detailed conversation about hunting techniques and preparing game meat. I had a million questions and now know how to skin a grouse in one motion by spreading it's wings, putting one foot on its neck and pulling swiftly forward. i also have a good understanding of the labours of removing moose hair and seal meat delicacies. We arrived at the most beautiful frozen waterfalls called Sambaa Deh in Slavey. Which means 'water up' I believe. Apparently it has several meanings depending on the tone of your voice. The water was dark brown and there was a thin stream of it dripping through the huge rock faces and plains of sleek ice. Later I baked bread, which didn't turn out well. It was like a giant crust. I think there is a curse on everything I cook here.

Monday November 10th

It is about 6:30pm and I am standing beside my house outside. my house is the last before the open road to civilization. It winds around the corner to the wolverine landing strip where you wait to catch the plane out in the middle of a snow pile. i am standing in a puddle of light cast  by the street lamp above me and staring at the emaciated trees that make up the forest surrounding me. They seem to be about the same width as the wrists of the 4 foot tall 11 year old girls in my class, with the same strange gray smudges on their skin and dents in their sides. Still, the snow settles perfectly on their every right angle.  They are completely still in a kind of unearthly silence. Behind me every once in a while I can hear the huskies whimpering and howling at their chains, their yelps have the same intensity as babies and little girls in distress. It seems that if you freed them from the shackles they spend day and night in they would run right across the river and up on to the moon. The there's the shrieks of kids playing out in the cold, doing god knows what, getting their limbs cut off skiddoing, begging their daddies not to shoot their doggies, drinking with their uncle- fathers or jumping off the mountainous snow hills the tractor adds to every morning. 

Rhonda on of our grade 4 students got her thumb cut off on the weekend snowmobiling. They drove her 3 hours to Hay River and then flew her to Edmonton, 6 hours without any medicine. 

I got a call from Donna, a lady that has a new litter of puppies that are always out in the cold beside the school. She told me that they have two females left and they are going to shoot them so do I want to take one?


November 6th

Today I feel like I accomplished more. I started working on the wolf unit and went to the gym afterschool to talk with Jennifer, the rec leader, about doing some activities there. She was very nice and I hope we can get things up on their feet and meet some of the kids families. I want my wild meat! The kids were a lot better today. Tomorrow I hope to fiddle and am looking forward to the movie and cupcakes together.

Today I went walking with Zaida while she cross country skiied down by the Jean Marie River. She told me her grandfather died in a snowmobiling accident down on the river bank last year. She kept saying that she could see him up in the trees looking down and protecting her like a monkey. She told me that there are lots of ghosts in Jean Marie and the Dene believe that the spirits of their relatives protect them. She tried to teach me how to cross country ski to no avail, she is a very sweet girl.

The kids do not know their geography- the thought that toronto was in the U.S. They also didn't know what a hairdresser was. The picture below is a photo shop that one of the 7 year olds did of Natasha, the oldest girl.

November 4th

It was my first day at school the kids in themselves are so bittersweet, o kind and yet so undereducated. The day went really fast because they keep it moving. They took me on a walking tour of Jean Marie and showed me their houses and their brothers and uncles, grandmothers, aunties, step mother' house........... The puppies are so cute! There is a big pack of them that belong to the janitor's daughter, I would really like to have one. I made my first cooking effort and my face, eyes and hands are all burning like hell from the chilies I bought. I didn't think that dried chilies were so potent!

Obamas first presedential speech was AMAZING! I have to say, I believed everything he said and was quite overtaken emotionally.


Friday November 7

Friday! We baked cupcakes and unsuccessfully watched a movie. The kids put cake all over the floor were very restless. Afterchool I was feeling very defeated but I decided to go the the gym to talk to Jennifer the rec coordinator anyway, for company if not for substance. It was pretty disorganized, kids literally doing everything everywhere, and a funny little canteen that one of the older students seems to run quite successfully. I set up the school's karaoke machine for them and drank dr. pepper and tried to talk to jennifer while keeping one of the kids from smashing in their tv with a bat and a basketball. Jennifer is very soft spoken and it seems like anything could pretty much fly with her in the beggining but I am sure I will be doing the majority of the real work when it comes down to the day. She doesn't seem to really hold any authority with the kids. We are planning to have a karaoke friday night and have some arts and crafts days and movie nights. Hopefully some traditional crafts and beading! This is the beggininng of a pretty quiet weekend with terry in fort simpson..... lots of time to work on my wolf unit!


November 5th

Today was my second day at Louie Norwegian . We went cross country skiing and the weather was simply gorgeous. The snow is piles 3 metres high around the buildings and is a fine powder. The sunshine was so bright and the trees are so short that looking out along the river you would think there was nothing beyond ice but small islands with similar small communities going skiing at lunch. I am starting work on the projects I hope to have the kids do about the human body, wolves and a culture unit on hunting a trapping. Quite a broad range of subjects I have been assigned too haha. It's exciting. The kids are pretty enthusiastic and are lots of fun to be around, someone is always bothering someone else and you can't blame anyone because they are all too clever and cute.
I finally recovered from the chile pepper burns after being distracted by Obama's win and putting a few too many dried chilies into my bean medley soup. That was a stinger! It burned all through the night and I of course forgot in the morning and set my eyes a flame while putting in my contacts. The principal must think I am trying to kill him. Although it wouldn't be the first time someone has made that threat according to his stories about some of the other reserves he has taught in. There seems to be a really future for me in the north as a social worker if I so desire.