Christmas came early for me this year. On December 2, I was the proudest father in the Cree Nation. I witnessed my daughter Phoebe receive the Gold Award for New Business of the Year from the Greater Ottawa Chamber of Commerce at the Ottawa Business Achievement Awards 2004! As we watched some 800 dignitaries, guests and corporate members in the nation’s capital gather to witness 49 finalists in the Ottawa area competing in various business categories, with tears of joy and pride, my wife and I couldn’t help but be very proud of our daughter’s achievements.
In a room filled with many strangers in a festive mood, my mind reeled back to the recent past. As a young father, one beautiful spring morning, I remember walking five miles to my goose blind. That fateful day all seemed well, and alone I was lost in my thoughts surrounded by the stillness and beauty of a fresh new day. The air was filled with an excitement and expectation of a successful day’s hunt.
Something else was also in the air, and I became restless in my spirit; restless enough to pack my hunting bag and head back home. Half way there, I met young Sydney who had been sent with the news my wife was in labour with our first child.
Our tent smelled of fresh boughs, the stove bringing warmth on a cool spring day, and the Cree women sitting together sharing stories of many experiences of children born in the bush camps. They brought an assurance that all would be well.
It wasn’t long before a newborn baby’s cry filled the air and the children in the camp were told a new visitor had arrived. They were silent and anxious to welcome the new arrival to the camp. As the saying goes, Phoebe was “born between two tree stumps” and now we could rightfully claim this traditional birth right.
Many years have come and gone, many of the Cree women who were there for this very purpose are no longer with us in our village. Phoebe, a young woman, was pursuing her dreams of moving into her choice of a future career. As a mother and a father, our decision to move from our village to spend more time with all our children in their educational pursuits was most difficult. Urban life was not easy and we often found ourselves longing to be home with family and friends sharing memorable experiences of life on the land. But we knew our children needed us to be with them, and whenever or wherever they needed us, we would be there for them.
Years later, we were privileged and honoured to witness ail our children complete their primary and secondary education without losing their Cree language and culture. We enjoyed seeing our children and journeyed with them as they pursued post-secondary education. As parents we continued to share and encourage them to have clear visions and dreams of a future. Our motto as a family was always: “Be all that you want to be, and some day you will find who you really are. You will find your place.”
Phoebe went on to complete her studies at Algonquin College and moved on to focus her studies at the New England Culinary Arts Institute. We found ourselves often traveling to visit her in her various places. Together with her husband Warren she pursued a dream to be an integral part of the Canadian business community.
The dream became a reality on November 15, 2003, as Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro was officially opened, offering a unique experience in the best of aboriginal fine dining. Moving beyond a limited definition of originality, quality of the food, creativity of the seasonal menu (reflecting Aboriginal influences from throughout North America and indigenous Caribbean) and the cultural richness of the restaurant’s character (with displays of original art by Aboriginal artists), Phoebe and Warren provide patrons an enriching and positive exposure to Cree and Aboriginal culture. Time Magazine carried an article by Susan Catto, referring to Ottawa as Cool at Heart, and where she wrote “the restaurant scene includes gems like Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro, where First Nations ingredients meet French culinary techniques.”
This journey was not easy but when you walk through an entrance showcasing favorable restaurant critiques, and even the recognition given by Where Canada Magazine as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants for 2003, and with the Ottawa City Magazine Restaurant Award as the Best New Restaurant in 2004, one can only appreciate the silent but loud statement being expressed by our Cree youth today. They will be effective players in the Canadian economy and they will not necessarily be confined within the walls of the “reservations.”
As a Cree Nation we must be ready and be willing to accommodate these visions and opportunities. As a father, my desire is to see more success stories in our Cree youth, and this will happen only if we stand strong as families who are committed to do whatever it takes to encourage and have an effective role in our children’s education.
The night ended on December 2 with a unique and timely opportunity to speak as a father to the Cree School Board staff, post secondary students, and commissioners and express our heartfelt appreciation for the support given to my daughter in her post secondary educational pursuits.
To the Cree Nation members, who have supported us by coming to visit and dine with us, thank you. The saying goes; “without a vision – a people perish.” Similarly we say, “without a people – a vision perishes.”
Thank you all for making us, the proudest parents for such a time as this! We wish you all a wonderful, joyful Christmas filled with peace and prosperity as only the Creator can give each of you!
Kenny and Louise Blacksmith