There comes a moment when you know you’ve crossed a threshold. Or, in my case, a river. Not the proverbial Rubicon, but the Papas, way up on the northern end of Lac Mistissini.
This was no triumphant crossing on the back of a stallion. But a less-than-elegant hitchhike on the back of Glen Wapachee, at the time an Ouje-Bougoumou band councilor.
You see, this was my first trip up to Cree country, more than six years ago, to fish in paradise for walleye and speckled trout. Only this city boy didn’t bring any rubber boots.
And that made crossing water, even shallow water, a little difficult.
So Glen volunteered to carry me across. I accepted, and will never live it down. Crees up and down the river pointed and laughed and I now laugh whenever I think back to the great first impression I made.
I was there as a guest of my friend, Will Nicholls, and to write a story for Hour magazine on the burgeoning Cree tourism industry and how Europeans were flocking to experience Native culture.
It was also my first taste of Cree culture… and humour.
Now I get it every other week in the Nation office as copy editor and titular member of the magazine’s editorial board. That’s why I have a special status. Depending on their mood, people here call me the “consultant,” or, “the white chief”, when they really don’t like the way I edited their copy. You see, I’m the guy responsible for taking out all the capital letters from every second word, for making sure all the commas are in the right place, and, most important, to ensure the Nation doesn’t get sued into bankruptcy.
It’s a fine line to walk. As someone who’s worked in alternative journalism most of his professional life, I believe in the value of writing with a point of view. Back at my student newspaper 20 years ago already, we called ourselves “agents of social change,” whatever that might have meant. But I still believe. I believe we have a responsibility to cover all points of view, but that we are dishonest – and doing a disservice to our readers – if we try to hide our own biases.
That’s part of the appeal of working here, even though I now work full-time in the so-called mainstream media. It’s the opportunity to continue to do journalism that appeals to the heart as well as the head. To add a little attitude and spice to the sometimes mundane meat and potatoes of providing an independent media voice to a very special community.
It’s an exciting project, even after 10 years, and especially for a semi-outsider like myself. The Cree of James Bay are on the cutting edge of political and social change in Canada. And at The Nation, we have a front-row seat.
It makes for interesting discussion and debate in the newsroom, especially over the past couple of years. A good deal of that ends up in the magazine, adding to the mix of views, news and diatribes we’ve become known for.
A tenth anniversary is a little like crossing a river in itself. It’s a marker in time, one that may be a little arbitrary, but one that nonetheless announces that you’ve come somewhere, and survived. Not without a few scars and assorted battle wounds along the way. But this issue is a birthday party of sorts that says the Nation is here to stay.