When you stand alone in a vast forest or by the great James Bay, hundreds of miles from the nearest village, there is at first a great sense of loneliness. However, when you are from a remote Native community that is full of chaos and confusion, the loneliness and silence brings a great sense of relief.
Our culture is full of legends, stories and beliefs that bring our world to life. When we are alone in the wilderness, the trees are full of stories. Each animal has a legend of where they came from and it is said that their ancestors were able to speak to our people. Standing out in the tundra or in the forest there is a great connection to the land. Even though there may not be any human beings around, there is a great sense that there are other living things surrounding us.
Being alone in the wilderness is an opportunity to experience the land. A community can distract us from even looking up to watch the night sky. People keep us occupied in our day-to-day lives. Electricity can generate all sorts of distractions that keep us behind walls and separated from the wilderness that our ancestors lived with for thousands of years. When we are away from all these distractions life is very different on many levels.
The generation before us that lived with the wilderness for most of their lives has many stories of strange happenings out on the land. One common story that is familiar to many families in the north has to do with the stars and the night sky. We are all naturally afraid of the dark. After all, this is the time when we are most vulnerable to night time predators and dangers. We can not see in the dark and what we can not see, we are instinctually afraid of.
The common story has to do with the night sky lighting up to the brightness of day for a quick moment with no explanation. Imagine being alone in the wilderness at night. The thought of being away from people is always on your mind, your memories are filled with stories from your parents of animal spirits and your Elders have instilled in you a belief that the land, the trees and the water are alive. Imagine then the shock and fear that a lonesome hunter feels when he sees something as strange as the night sky turning to daytime.
My dad Marius recently related a story of walking alone one night in the middle of winter. During a stroll back to his camp while trapping alone, the night sky lit up as bright as day for afew seconds. The light reflected off the white snow and lit up everything around him. As the blinding light dissipated, a strange form shot through the sky leaving a trail of smoke. It flew over him and formed a crescent shape in the cold night sky. In a matter of minutes, the smoke trail disappeared, the dark sky returned and the stars reappeared, leaving a dazed and confused trapper to walk back alone to his camp.
My mom Susan lived isolated with her family on the Nawashi River and she remembers one night when the stars flew in all sorts of directions. She lived with a group of about six or seven family members throughout the year. She recalls standing outside the camp one night with the family as they watched a moonless sky. Suddenly the stars began to dance across the sky. They zipped and streaked across the darkness randomly all night. The family cowered in fear as this strange happening went on above their tiny home on the banks of the river in the far, far north.
Another story from the north involves a hunter camping beside a river one evening. In the morning, he found a large boulder sitting near to his tent that he thought had not been there before. He noticed that it looked like a rock he saw on a river bank the day before. Before leaving his camp ground he went back along the river to the spot where the rock had been and to his surprise, an indention on the land was all that was left of where the boulder had sat. He was astounded and wasted no time in getting back to Attawapiskat to tell everyone of his experience. To this day nobody has explained how such a huge boulder could simply move along the land and end up next to the hunter’s tent.
There are so many stories of monsters and strange things in the night sky over the great James Bay. This makes for great entertainment in stories from Elders around a fire when we are out on the land. It conjures up all sorts of images and story lines. As a matter of fact when I think about it this kind of exciting and mysterious story telling is better than TV Many times I went to bed after storytelling sessions around the fire filled with fear and images of the unexplained.