I see the signs of Halloween just about everywhere I go these days. I mages of ghosts and goblins are stalking the neighbourhoods. Many front yards are miniature stage settings that feature spooky characters in the familiar orange and black colours of this ancient and festive time.
All this reminds me of my Halloween escapades as a child in Attawapiskat. I need to explain that First Nations communities react intensely to holidays. My guess is that we experience these special days more vigorously because many of us live in remote communities. Don’t forget, when you live in an isolated community like Attawapiskat there are limits as to what you can do for entertainment. You can’t just hop in a car or on a bus or on a train and go to the next city or town, and there are not a lot of outlets in terms of entertainment. No doubt, these reasons are at the root of why remote First Nations communities go overboard to celebrate special occasions.
In my own case, I remember one particular year when Halloween came to town. My first notion that Halloween was approaching was on a visit to the Northwest Store where I saw the familiar pumpkin standing out like a sore thumb among all the other vegetables in the store. In those days not many people bought pumpkins to bring home for display. You have to remember that most of the food and products that make their way to Attawapiskat come by aircraft. The cost of produce is based on weight and pumpkins, of course, are heavy which makes them expensive.
As soon as my friends and I spied the pumpkin, that got us to thinking about Halloween. The next big hint that Halloween was just around the comer came from our teachers at school. Suddenly there was a preoccupation with black and orange colours and for days we were obsessed with drawing all the familiar spooks of Halloween. As the day grew closer, costumes and masks appeared on display in the Northwest Store and, by this time, all of us kids were beginning to get excited about the big day. The real clincher came when our teacher painted our faces on Halloween day and handed out Halloween candies.
I remember running home this night with a painted face and the taste of Halloween candy still in my mind. After a quick supper with all of my brothers and my sisters it was time to deliberate on our costumes. I was only seven years old on this night, so much of the creativity and effort in making me ready for Halloween came from my sisters, Janie and Jackie. We hauled out all the masks from the year before and after some debate our new personalities were created. I was a pirate this night and once I slipped the musty old rubber mask over my face everything changed. With a little help from my sisters, in half an hour I was out the door, sword in hand and carrying a plastic grocery bag in search of my treasure.
The gravel streets of Attawapiskat were alive with scary monsters, grotesque creatures and horror movie characters of all types. The great thing about this night was that nobody knew who you were. Well, not at first anyway. Part of the ceremony of Halloween in Attawapiskat is the guessing game that is played at every door. With every stop I made on my way through the community as I did my trick or treat, a game was played. The homeowners and families at each house all gathered to try and guess who was under the mask. In a small place like Attawapiskat with only a few hundred homes, everyone is known. So it is with great delight that this game is played. I didn’t hold back and let them know right away who I was. After all I was no dummy and I was not out to waste a lot of time as the night was short and I had a lot of candy to pick up.
In a couple of hours I was exhausted by this freaky night on the town. I scurried home with my treasure and poured the contents of the plastic bag into a big communal box in the living room. Let me tell you it was such a pleasure to see that treasure grow with the donations from my two sisters and my six brothers. For the rest of that evening I filled my stomach with all sorts of great Halloween delights. As a matter of fact we all ate candy for a solid week. God, it was great to be a kid.