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.
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??