Friday, April 8, 1994
Isaac Masty and John Petagumskum Jr. flew in from Whapmagoostui, Quebec. James Masty will be representing the Council of the Whapmagoostui First Nation. Ashley Iserhoff and me, Lisa Petagumskum Masty, will be representing the Youth.
The other paddlers are Rene Blacksmith and Claude Otter, the Grand Council Liaison Officer.
Saturday, April 9
Luis Eguren drove us from Montreal to the Albany area. We met Nancy Papish and were informed that we were to stay at her house. Almost immediately, we were also told that we had to go to a potluck supper put on especially for us.
At the supper, we were introduced to many people. We couldn’t remember most of their names but those we had to remember were those who would be on the trip. Our guide on the river would be Roger Downs. Ashley Gilbert and her boyfriend, Jeremiah, would be driving the van while we were on the river. Wind Wolf would be assisting in any way that he could.
After the supper, we found out that the canoe rack didn’t fit on the truck, a truck rented especially for the Odeyak. A minor problem, but a problem just the same.
Sunday, April 10
As a result of the problems with the rack, we had to drive rather than paddle to Kingston. At the marina we were welcomed by representatives from the Mayor’s office and other officials. We were honoured with gifts of tobacco and medicine for the journey. There were many interested people who wanted to hear the Cree perspective on James Bay II, an issue they had become familiar with from their perspective. We spoke for the river, the land, the animals, the children and the elders. Teachings of respect for all creation, taught to us as children, were also shared.
Later, people came forward to thank us for being “real.” We didn’t know how to respond because we were only speaking about our reality. The reality of the proposed destruction of a virgin territory and disrespect for the people who live in that territory. Disrespect of values and beliefs kept alive for thousands of years.
We thanked them for their hard work and their perseverence. There were people there who had never seen the James Bay and Hudson Bay territory but yet they spend many hours volunteering to bring attention to our issue.
We were then driven to another pot-luck supper. There were many people who had gone out of their way to provide meat for the supper because they were told that the Crees like meat. Again, we were honoured with gifts and excellent entertainment. The entertainment consisted of local focksingers and a traditional Native American artist and her niece.
Manna Jo Greene and her husband put us up for the night. I had a room without curtains. From my bed I could see the stars and wondered who in James Bay was looking at these same stars. Whoever they were, I wished them well.
Before sunrise, I was awakened by the sound of an owl. Immediately, I thought about my Grandmother. The owl cried three times. As a child I was taught that the owl is a messenger of death or bad news or a change of weather.
Whatever had happened I could not change but I was thankful for being honoured to hear what came after the message of the owl. At first it sounded like one bird but then other birds joined in to make the most beautiful melodies. I was left to wonder again what took place during the night.
Monday, April 11
By late afternoon we learned that an elder had died in Mistissini. Everybody was very subdued. We paddle and were welcomed by quite a large crowd in Poughkeepsie. The Hudson River was quite scenic. When we docked, we were swarmed by little black children who wanted our autographs. Ashley and I taught them how to write their names in Cree Syllabics. Just being around them really made us feel good. They made everything okay.
One of the folksingers, Pat Humphries, gave us money from the sale of her tapes. We split the money to buy hotel rooms. We all wanted to be alone to deal with the news of the death of the elder. We spent this time thinking about those elders still alive, what they represented to us and to this journey.
Tuesday, April 12
The rain was coming down hard most of the day. We arrived early at our stop. There was nobody there to meet us. We waited for about a half-hour before people came by. There was yet again another potluck supper. Claude Otter, Rene Blacksmith, James Masty, John Petagumskum J r., Ashley Iseroff and I made presentations. We spoke about the message of hope that we’ve been privileged to witness on the journey. We acknowledge all those who have taught us well and those who care so much.
Wednesday, April 13
The rain was still pouring and as a result it was decided that we would drive to New York City. Claude had to be driven to a radio interview. The rest of the group drove to NYC. We were all energetic and getting anxious to get there.
We eventually got there and were rudely surprised by NYC traffic. Everybody seemed to be in a rush. The drivers were
weaving in and out very fast. Some of the crew stayed at Gretchen Hugh’s place and we stayed at Alicia Fierer’s. Wind Wolf was our personal tour guide. He was quite informative.
Sunday, April 17
Earth Day Celebrations! The wind was very strong. Due to fear of tipping over we didn’t paddle. We went to the Celebration. We were on stage and had a few minutes to bring our message of thanks to the people of NYC for their interest and hard work.
After the celebration, we drove to Montreal. We got there late. There were messages waiting for us. Not a good sign. I returned a message from my father. He told me that my husband’s grandmother had died. I understood the message of the owl then.
I just hope the rest of the world can understand the message to end the desecration of traditional and sacred lands for monetary profit. What we do to the circle of life, we do it to ourselves and our children.
This practice must stop now. We will be silent no more! Adios until the next trip!
Present, Monday, April 25, 12:30 a.m.
I am at the hotel room trying to finish this piece. I am almost done when Stanley George calls. He tells me that his mom wants batteries and he talks about the latest in Whapmagoostui. He tells me that an Inuit elder died today. She was to be flown to Val d’Or but didn’t make it.
I am almost relieved but I still feel the pain of the loss of another elder. I am almost relieved because I think about my grandmother, Lottie Petagumskum. She has been sick for a longtime. Before the Odeyak trip started, I went to see her at the Montreal General. I asked her for permission to go. The doctors were not very optimistic, and I felt I needed her to tell me it was okay to go. She lay there like a baby. I could hardly make out her words. She gestured for me to approach her, she kissed me and then I just let the tears flow.
I cried because I didn’t know if I would see her again. I wondered if it was worth it to sacrifice the time I had left with her. She told me she was ready to leave, but first she wanted to see her children and grandchildren. She told me to have a safe trip and to do her proud.
I realize now that the third owl was the message of a death of another elder. The melody of the birds was the eternal peace they would find and they would not feel any more pain.
My grandmother is home now. She has achieved what every elder wants to do. She taught me the importance of our traditional values and transferred to me the love of the Cree way of life and all that it entails. She also instilled in me a determined and stubborn refusal to allow the destruction of the territory she so loved. I know now I will always walk with her teachings and will always be thankful to the Creator forgiving me such a wise woman as my grandmother.
The trip was dedicated to all elders, both those who walk this world and the spiritual world. Their guidance we must rely on. Their love we must practice. Their way of life we must protect. For it is the Cree way.