Looking at the moon, clean and bright against the sunny sky in the crisp, deep blue openness of a July moment, made me remember Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. It was July 20, 1969, and even though we couldn’t see anything happening a quarter-million miles away, to the mind of a 10-year-old, it was a golden moment crowning my next day birthday as being the most memorable of my life. Getting to the moon was no longer impossible and afterwards, well, it just became one of those rolling balls of wool on a snowy hill, ever growing and hard to stop. Technology was everywhere it seemed.
Growing up in the 1960s, when no one had power hookups or running water, the latest transistorized trends were already in our hands: portable record players that ran on batteries. In those days, it wasn’t about worrying that your technology wouldn’t work, it was about whether or not you had enough energy stored in your batteries to sustain a small outdoor teen dance.
The Archies reigned in teeny-bop world and topping that off was internationally known Bobby Sherman, who was known for his wardrobe and good looks more than his singing style. That bubble burst quickly with liquid acid rock like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and in the altered states of hippiedom, John Lennon.
I wasn’t sure if it was the new generation, the change in culture, the access to the South, the sudden interest of the South in Eeyou Istchee’s natural resources that put us at the centre of attention. What, Indians with power? From where? These were common questions at the time, as we constantly drew the maps of our cultures and lands every time someone new came by, like consultants or government representatives, explaining that we do have an active lifestyle that is rooted in Cree culture. It always amused me when the next document produced is virtually the same thing I explained to the consultant, except in glossy format. So, a few generations beyond the historic step on the moon, are we anywhere close to where we wanted to be?
Looking back at our evolution from Armstrong’s historic moment in space and time, we certainly see things differently today. Back in the day, it was about maintaining an orderly way of life on the lands we called Eeyou Istchee. Today, we only practice our traditions and livelihoods of the past.
Back then, schools didn’t allow us to speak our language. Today, it’s taught in all the schools. Back then, water was hauled from one of the world’s largest freshwater sources – Chisasibi – on our backs and yokes in 10-gallon pails. Today, filtered and chemically treated waters piped to our homes have replaced the fresh spring water sources. Back then, as a hunter, you had to be able to call all kinds of birds. Now, our iPods do the calling for us. Paddling down the rivers, snowshoeing for miles on end, you get the idea. Life today isn’t the same as in the past.
So what would our next rocket scientist graduate be able to do for us today? Perhaps eliminate diabetes and find a cure for lethargy, laziness and languor? Maybe even invent a better canoe or snowshoe, a better fishnet or hockey stick. A safer gun or lifejacket, a better tent or waterproof fire starters. My favourite would be the sparkplug that never quits or axe that never goes dull or right up there, a snowmobile that doesn’t get stuck in the deep snow or slush.
Whatever it takes to make our future brighter and better, I say. So why can’t we, I dare ask. Why can’t we? This question brings me back to the present place in space and time, the answer still floating around in deep space of an alternate universe that could have been…