Neil was on the road, so this issue we bring you a story from Margaret Orr. -Ed.
One day, before an exam, I had a dream where my Elders asked me, when I returned home, “What did you learn while being away at school?” In school we learn what is expected of us, sometimes more. What we learn outside of school is often the unexpected. Like, during my road trip home for the summer holidays, we stopped to visit a friend in Michigan and took a walk in the city park. Inside a large pen there were some tame deer, comfortable where they were. What I found that turned my stomach and broke my heart was a large black bear caged in an 18′ x 18′ pen. The bear was suffering. His eyes were glazed over. He caught my eyes for a while then looked away and groaned. He was huge, too fat for lack of space and too much food. Surrounding him were containers that his audience threw over the fence at him, their left-over fast foods. Out of boredom he had also chewed on the garbage.
On the way back from our walk I checked up on the bear. He was walking and groaning in pain, unable to find any shady breeze from the heat. He caught my gaze and looked as if he wanted to say something. Another onlooker said that she often comes to see him and feels helpless to do anything about it, and people are always throwing their garbage at him, making him sick and the caretakers do not do anything to improve his home. She also gave a history on how the bear got there.
As a cub, the bear was rescued by firefighters and placed in the park. He’s never really known any freedom and depends on the city to feed him. When they want to clean his cage they just stuff him into his house and close the door. Suffering from lack of minerals, he chews on his own excrement as any neglected caged animal will do. Remembering words of an Elder who said to speak to a bear if you meet it in the woods, that is what I did, out of respect.
Now, reflecting on the misfortune of the bear, I see all around me our people forced off their land and supposedly rescued by guilt-ridden governments and Hydro-Quebec, suffering the same conditions as the bear, minus the excrement. Now our Native peoples are living a life unfamiliar to most peoples who had enjoyed freedom before the industrial fires destroyed their land and their lives. Along with the new life comes the garbage, unknowingly consumed by the old and the new.
A rapidly encroaching technological culture must be learned. So must a new lifestyle that can learn how to filter out impurities, cleverly control luxuries and diabetic garbage. Exercise, creativity, diet, culture, education, anything that’s good for good living can be provided for the bear. It will be free to create a life of its own and maybe for others, learning self-respect and dignity.
So this is a lesson that life taught me in the most unexpected way, and the lasting impact it had on me.