Our story begins sometime last April. SKAL (Swedish for “Manly Love,” according to someone in our office who doesn’t speak Swedish) contacted someone who’s supposed to be in charge of tourism at the Grand Council headquarters. As is always the case for these things, it sat on someone’s desk for months ignored and started to smell.
Finally after much waiting it was passed around and, somehow, some way, it landed on the desk of a good friend, confidant and also cousin of mine, George L. Diamond, two or three weeks before the Grand Opening. Diamond was understandably wary of taking on the project at so short a notice but, as always, he put all his energy into getting the show on.
He called me right away, “Can you line up some photos for a slide presentation?” “Sure, no problem man, consider it done.” It was quiet for over a week with no word from Waskaganish. Four days before showtime the phone rang for me. It was George.
“Neil, man, I need your help!” he said, almost frantic. “The guy I’m working withhas a black eye and I can’t do this alone. I need you and I’ll pay you.”
“Cha-Ching !!!!” I thought. Easy money. I have my moments of naivete.
I cab it down to Cree Lodging (Sheraton) in downtown Montreal to meet him. In the lobby, of course, were a few chiefs milling around completely in their element where a cup of coffee sells for almost four Canadian dollars and a phone call out of the suites will cost you a buck.
I enter his room and spread out all over the bed are envelopes full of cash to pay for performers, teepee poles, transportation, meals and he’s on the phone. “I’m going crazy here man,” he says by way of greeting. “The teepees for the show were supposed to have been lined up, the Grand Chief was supposed to have been confirmed, the dancers from Waswanipi haven’t called back and we don’t have drummers yet! And the Eastmain dance team aren’t here yet.”
He gave me a few numbers to call. “Where’s this and where’s that? Where are they??Who’s got teepee poles in Montreal? Bing! The Mohawks! The Mohawks?? The Mohawk didn’thave teepees, they had longhouses.” Whatever, so he calls Kahnawake and like a signfrom heaven, it just so happens that at that very moment
three Cree trappers from Waskaganish are on the rez trapping and feasting on Mohawk beaver. Harharhar. Thanks to the Mohawk beaver surplus our teepee problem is solved. Everything will be delivered if they can find a truck long enough for Cree poles.
I leave him on the first night and he’s still on the phone arguing with one of the organizers and defending his credibility. I leave disgusted after being called a liar. I don’t need this crap.
It’s getting closer and closer to showtime and George hasn’t slept enough and he’s getting testy. I’m going to wait for that guy’s eye to clear up and I’ll give him another black eye, he half jokes.
The Eastmain dancers, after a two-hour wait, are finally gathered in one room to rehearse. They go through their routine with little energy but they show flashes of what’s to come. Fiddler Roger Weapenicappo has his Algonquin backup band ready to go from the sound of their tunes.
At 3:30 Monday morning a small group has gathered in the Cree Lodging lobby to take the poles to the Montreal Congress Centre and only one Chief, Kenny Gilpin, has the energy to get up. Our teepee erection engineer Sherman Herodier has his team with him. Even some performers show up to help. The teepee is up and ready for the show before anyone can have a cup of coffee.
The countdown has begun and the slide show isn’t ready. Other minor details have to be worked out and bank deposits from various sponsors have yet to be made.
One hour before showtime and most of the performers are dressed and ready to go. Finally Ernest Webb, Mawstah of Ceremonies, is introduced and the show begins. Matthew Coon Come and Ashley Iserhoff keep their speeches thankfully short and sweet. Francine Weistche starts the show and she kills them. Robert Bobbish gets up before an old crowd but does okay with his heavy music. Pow Wow dancers are treated like stars after their dance by the mostly foreign audience who pose for pictures with them in full costume. The Eastmain dancers strut their stuff and the crowd goes nearly wild after their 10-minute set. Someone later asks incredulously, “How can they dance like that for 10 minutes?!”
The show ends and I run off to see my doctor for a checkup and George is still working.Poor guy.