I was back home in Attawapiskat recently. The flight with Air Creebec was in a new Dash-8 aircraft. This aircraft was a big change from the noisy and rattling Hawker Sidley planes that I remembered from past trips home. This flight was quiet and happily uneventful except for the fact that I met so many people I had not seen for a long time.
Luckily, I ended up sitting next to George Wesley of Kashechewan First Nation who is an Elder and political leader in his community and also with Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN). He was flying home after attending meetings with NAN. On our way back up north he told me stories of his life up the coast and he talked about people and places I had heard of while growing up in my own community. It was good to speak Cree with all the people I met on the flight home.
On my arrival I was greeted by almost my entire family. They were surprised and happy at my last-minute decision to head home for a holiday. The welcome started with a tour of the community. I must admit I felt as though I had never left.
I was happy to find that Nokoom, my grandmother Louise, was now living with my parents. She was quietly knitting in her room when I arrived. Nokoom was equally happy to see me and stopped to show me all the craftwork she had accomplished in the last while. I was surprised to find a whole container full of the little mitts she was making. The house felt better with Nokoom around.
One of my first duties was to repair some leaky tires on my dad’s truck so that I could count on it on my travels through town. On my journey I visited old friends and all my aunts and uncles. It felt great to see everyone again but I was also sad at times to realize that some of the old familiar faces I grew up with were now gone.
There were times as I made my way through familiar places, I felt like I had never left Attawapiskat. The weather was great during my visit and on severed occasions in mid morning when the town was quiet I was content to simply sit out in the sun with family and friends and listen to my uncles or my cousins chatting about their lives, the weather and a little gossip.
I never really realized that one of the things I missed most about my home was the ability to speak my language on a regular basis. It felt so good to express myself in my own language everywhere I went. As I traveled through town I took my nieces and nephews with me to meet some of our Elders. I spent a lot of my time with my nephew Philip, who is a quiet and witty 10-year-old boy. He is big for his age but has a kind and gentle personality.
We visited the local Catholic Church and sat with Father Vezina. I have recognized him as part of our church for as long as I can remember. While we were there we saw another sight that takes place every year near the church. A group of young teenagers had been hired by Father Vezina to cut the lawn. I never had the opportunity to do this while I was a teenager but some of my brothers did. I asked these boys if I could take a photo of them and they immediately withdrew. To get my photo, I made an agreement to buy them all cold drinks. When I came back with cold pop, they were all happy to take a break from the hot weather and cool down in the shade of the towering church.
I met so many people and had many interesting and valuable conversations. One particular meeting lingers in my mind. The day before my departure, I visited the bank of the river to get a last look at the Attawapiskat River before leaving town. I met Angela Metat, a local Elder and we stood on the high bank admiring the view of the river during low tide. She confided in me that this sight has always been comforting to her. She talked about so many memories that had to do with the river. As I listened to her I could imagine her as a young girl coming to the bank in a canoe with her family in the excitement of setting up the summer camp. It got me thinking of my own memories of the river and I look forward to the next time I can look out from the bank to watch the waves roll in.