As a young person growing up in Mistissini I was unsure of my place in life. More often than not, children learn from those who are older than they are. Outsiders blithely refer to them as Elders but I knew something they didn’t. My mother taught about the “Great Ladies” in the community and that applied no matter what sex a person was. You took your life lessons and teachings from those who had something meaningful to share.
That was how I thought of Charlie Etapp. He had a powerful presence in our community. He was a person who followed the Cree traditional spiritual lifestyle, one who knew the spirits. I was fascinated with that and hung around him. He was patient with me and while I did not become a disciple of his teachings I still learned many lessons from him that helped make me the person I am today.
Of course, there were those who questioned him and others who welcomed his help. What I took from the way he lived was something I will pass on to others. He taught me that the concepts of right and wrong that people will often tell you to live by, in the end, only belong to them. The important thing is to remember that you are the one who determines what is right and wrong for yourself and those you care about.
Charlie was a man who freely expressed his great passion and love. The story of his heartbreak over his first wife’s death showed that. Then, much later on in life, the power of his love again was demonstrated when he put aside his traditional spiritual practices to join his beloved late wife Louisa’s church. He showed that love to me whenever I would visit and, in return, I loved him for that. I can and will always remember the spark in his eye that was grounded by a real smile when he taught me something he felt I should know. It was at times just a moment watching how he treated family and others he loved.
He was one of the most open people I’ve had the privilege to meet. Charlie shared his life and his knowledge easily and calmly with a sense of humour. You could see that when Charlie Makes A Drum was filmed by Rezolution Pictures. Not only did he show his skills in making a drum but explained what it meant. We all laughed at him telling what a catch he was because he could make his own snowshoes. Of course, you could see the mischievous humour when he asked Louisa if he should drum one more time.
His sons have told me of hunting trips they had with him and how even in his elder years he was still part of the land. He has gone to his rest, his final one, and I wish him and his family well.
There are those who we know we will miss but I am thankful to have known this man enough to have learned from him and to regret that others will no longer have this opportunity.
Your life and who you were is something we will all have to live up to as human beings. Rest well my friend and teacher, until we meet again.