“Sam Masty, speaking in 1974 at Great Whale River, said Walton was the ‘first man to tell people to put away the things they believed; the first to change many people.’ Masty explained that the people lost the supernatural powers ‘when they heard about Jesus Christ from the missionaries…. The people willfully lost these powers because Reverend Walton said to do so. They listened to him and now today no one has any powers like that.”
From: The White Man’s Gonna Getcha: The Colonial Challenge to the Crees in Quebec by Toby Morantz
After seeing his daughter write in her diary, Harry Snowboy of Chisasibi was inspired to write the story of his life so far. Snowboy, who is still a young man, was compelled to write a book on his experiences. At his book launch at the Native Friendship Centre in Ottawa in early November, Snowboy said people usually expect an older person to show up when he goes to ceremonies.
A gathering of his family, friends and interested people were on hand for the launch. Among them was Snowboy’s wife, Juliana, their children and his friend Clifford Summers, who did the opening prayer song. Actor Adam Beach, with his children in tow, was the special guest. Originally Snowboy just wanted to write down his feelings. “It wasn’t meant to be a book. I wanted to write down my feelings. I knew I carried a lot of hurt. I knew that I carried a lot of loneliness.”
Early on Snowboy knew he was not like the other children and they let him know. “When I started school that’s when I knew I did not fit in. Nobody understood me. The kids did not understand me. I was called Midao. It’s not supposed to be a bad word. It was turned into a bad word. It means witch or bad medicine man. Because they couldn’t understand me or I talked differently. I talked about spirituality or what I knew. It didn’t fit in the classroom or what we were learning.”
A Voice from the Wilderness breaks new ground in that is addresses a subject that was largely taboo and misunderstood in the communities. Midewin went underground during the early days of the missionaries and only surfaced again a few years ago. Snowboy takes a brave step in telling his story of becoming a shaman. In the book, he covers the beginning of his life to where he is today – from the harsh reality of trying to fit in at school to his calling to become a shaman.
“I remember being bullied a lot. There was this one time, I remember being tied up with steel wire and the kids dragging me around like a dog or like a mule. The only peace I found was when I was out with the old people, when I was out on the land. That was the only peace I found,” he said.
“At a very young age, I was experiencing supernatural phenomena but to me it was very normal, it was very natural. It was something that was in everyday life because we were always in the bush.”
The feelings Snowboy had as he traveled his road were not always pleasant ones. “I started growing up in a world that I felt did not want what it was I grew up with or what it was I was given.”
Snowboy exposes a side of Cree life that has remained hidden for generations. “At the age of 8, I heard this voice from the sky. This voice called me. I remember being really terrified. I told him what I heard. I don’t remember what he said but I remember feeling very safe. Then again when I was 13 or so I heard the same voice again. This time I told my great uncle. He told me he was going to call me again and what you will have to do is respond to him.”
A Voice from the Wilderness is by no means a how-to in becoming a shaman, rather it’s a story of what one person went through in becoming one. This book will certainly open your eyes to Snowboy’s life. And maybe this book will be the first of others to follow in addressing an aspect of Cree life seldom seen or heard about.
Snowboy’s future will certainly have many interesting twists and turns so we will have to wait to see if there will be a follow-up. “As my great uncle said, ‘You’re going to have to tell him you are ready. And tell him you’re going to do what he says.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ ‘Because that’s the one that gave you life. That’s the creator. He has chosen you.’”
A Voice from the Wilderness
A Cree Shaman’s Story
By Harry Snowboy