Rivers and waterways

RIVER

 

When I was eight my family, Donnie, my mom’s cousin, Wayne, my step dad, my mom and sister and I went camping for the weekend along the Squamish River. Donnie grew up in the Grand Prairie area in Alberta. His mom, my grandmother’s sister, was one of the lucky ones in that she didn’t attend residential school. It was Donnie’s idea to go camping; he said he knew a great place along the river with a beautiful view of the mountains. Donnie directed Wayne to the hidden spot off the highway and down a gravel road. We parked and made our way to the edge of the forest to the rocky beach along the Squamish River. While the adults worked at pitching the tents Donnie put Breannen and I to work finding sticks. Donnie instructed us that the sticks had to be twice as tall as us. I remember thinking to myself that I was going to find the tallest stick- I didn’t, Breannen won that challenge.  After we found enough sticks at the right size Donnie instructed us on our next mission. We were to find big rocks that were not too round, they had to be able to be lifted with two sticks. Breannen and I were a bit confused with the instruction until Donnie showed us a rock that matched his instructions. Bre and I went to work. I remember being excited and fully engaged with finding these perfectly odd shaped rocks. It was fun running on the stony beach, jumping over logs and using my sweatshirt to hold the boulders I found. I remember my skinny little arms holding these rocks in my sweatshirt and thinking they were perfect objects that should be cherished and held. While Bre and I were rock hunting Wayne and Donnie were fashioning together a tipi with the sticks Bre and I found earlier. Once the sticks were in place they wrapped a blue tarp around them to form a rugged tipi. After the tipi was erected Wayne made a fire. Bre and I would return with our loot and unload it beside the fire, Donnie would inspect them and put the rocks he deemed fit for the project in the fire. After a few trips Donnie told us we had done a good job and to sit down and get settled. We sat by the fire roasting hot dogs and drinking pop. Bre and I were in heaven; we weren’t normally allowed to drink pop, so we enjoyed every minute of it. After we ate Donnie started to transfer the rocks that were in the fire into the tipi. He used two sticks that he soaked in the river water to transport the rocks from the fire to a hole in the middle of the tipi. One by one he carefully balanced the rocks on these two sticks from the fire to the tipi. At one point in time he was transferring a rock and the stick caught fire and Donnie started swearing, Bre and I laughed until we fell over. When he was done moving all the rocks he told us to get undressed and sit in the tipi. Bre and I were excited to take part in this activity, I don’t think we really understood what it was but it was an adventure. We were sitting in our bathing suits giddy with excitement; Donnie had a big bucket of water and a little cup beside him. After he closed the flap of the trap and enclosed us within the tipi he poured a cup of water onto the hot rocks. Steam from the hot rocks engulfed the space within the tipi. I remember the feeling of steam entire my lungs and how it made me cough if I breathed too deeply. The sizzling sound of the cold water hitting the rocks was magical. I had never been in a sweat before and it was a memorable experience. Donnie, being the best storyteller in our family, told story after story. When we got too hot we would run out of the sweat and into the glazier river, screeching, like little girls do, and tripping over stones on the beach. The amount of energy you feel from the fluctuating heat levels was something my body still remembers. 

This weekend was a gift from the river.

 

MIGRATION

Migration is in my blood[1]. It trickles down from my Cree ancestors, Payou/Payiw and Kanawantan, moving west to follow the fur trade and my Métis ancestors, Beaudry, migrating west from the Red River Settlement. It appears on my settler blood; my grandfather’s parents are Scottish and my father is a third generation New Zealander emigrating from Europe. It is not surprising that I ended up settling on the opposite side of the continent. I was born on unceded Coast Salish territory, in what is now commonly called Vancouver, and grew up, for a large portion of my life, on Tsawwassen First Nations ancestral land. My grandmother moved to Vancouver, in her late teens with my grandfather; she was born and spent the first few years of her life on a farm along Heart River, Alberta, located on the territory of the Beaver, Metis, and Woodland Cree peoples. I moved to Nova Scotia in 2010 and fell in love with the community and landscape. This is why I chose to create three separate beaded rivers based in three separate territories. I wanted to represent the three territories I feel I have a connection to due to current and past occupation and ancestral history.  

 

Water is medicine. Water is life.

 

HEART RIVER

This Heart River is a major tributary of The Peace River, which is where my Cree ancestors hail. Heart River flows from Stinking Lake (Wanagami Lake) to Peace River, a well-known river in Alberta. Peace River was named for the settling of a conflict between the Dane-zaa and Cree of the area. Cree are one of the largest groups of First Nations in North America, spreading west from Lake Superior through Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and into the Northwest Territories. The reason for this migration west is due to the North American fur trade, which has roots deep into the 1600s. The Cree of the Peace River area kept pushing the Dane-zaa out of their territory until a smallpox epidemic decimated the Cree population. Losing their advantage, the Cree and Dane-zaa created a treaty of peace in which they smoked a ceremonial pipe together, solidifying the boundaries: Dane-zaa to the North and Cree to the South of Peace River. In the modern day this area is now an important center for oil and natural gas production used for capital wealth and controlled by the colonial state governments of Canada.

Heart River is the first river I will be beading. I chose this river because it is the river of my ancestors. My great-grandparents owned a farm along this river and started their family there. It’s the river I imagine my grandmother and her siblings playing in during hot summer days. It is this river I imagine my great-great grandparents collecting water from, or crossing to hunt, or fishing in. This river nourished the plants and wildlife of the area, sustaining the surrounding environment enabling my ancestors to flourish. I wanted to bead this river to honour the life force that supported the life of my ancestors.

 

FRASER RIVER

When I was a teenager I was forced to visit my father at his home in North Delta on regular weekends. He lived along the Fraser Highway. He owned this grandiose house that overlooked the Fraser River. Although I hated visiting the river was always company when I needed to get away. I would walk out to the edge of the property and watch the river. No matter how I felt the river always ran and the sound always made me feel better.

The Fraser River flows from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Georgia; it’s one of the largest rivers in North America. It is named after Simon Fraser, who traversed and traced it in 1808. In 1858 gold was discovered on the sandbars south of Yale, which led to the gold rush on the Fraser River. Settlers flocked to the area, forever changing and affecting the lands and the people who inhabited them. Today a deadly combination of climate change and an epidemic of pine beetles is effecting the Fraser, threatening the fragile eco-system this river holds together; pulp and paper mills are adding to the contamination of the waters and dams are altering migration of the salmon and other spawning fish.

Currently the Fraser River shares it’s natural wealth with 98 First Nations that live along the river basin. For centuries these people have had a relationship with this river and for the past two hundred years that relationship has been teetering because of the invasive, violent and detrimental effects of the colonial state and willfully ignorant settler communities.

 

SHUBENACADIE RIVER

The Shubenacadie River cuts through the middle of Nova Scotia; running from the Minas Basin to downtown Dartmouth. Once used by the Mi’kmaq to traverse the territory for trade and fishing, the government state and Alton Gas are now threating the rivers system and fragile life. Alton Gas proposes to install two salt caverns, which could amount to as many as fifteen, that will store natural gas. These caverns will create huge quantities of salt brine that will be disposed of by dumping it into the Shubenacadie River causing irreversible environmental damage to the rivers ecosystem.

As a visitor in Mi’kma’ki I wanted to think about ways to develop community connections, inspire activisms in line with local Indigenous values, rights and beliefs, and activate notions of kinship and allyship. This was the reason I decided to facilitate and organize the third river in my thesis project. I wanted to take the model I developed while producing and making the first two rivers and apply it to a community-based project. I wanted to take myself out of the making process, as much as possible, and give it back to the community. This project is about developing conversation while beading the river that gives to all community members. Once the Shubenacadie River Project is completed it will be donated to Stop Atlon Gas group.

 

 

[1] Two websites I found very helpful in looking at territory and migration were: http://fnpim-cippn.aandc-aadnc.gc.ca/index-eng.html and https://native-land.ca/

 

A MESSAGE CARRIED

Whisper a secret while it rains and the watershed will deliver it to the river. The river will carry that secret, to its network of waters. These waters will hold that secret for all eternity.[1]

[1] Inspired by Kim Smith (Bitterwater clan) “One thing that one of my brothers taught me is that, when you talk to water it carries a message. It carries whatever message that you give it, to all waters, and so it spreads…” (Broken Boxes)

 

 

AN APOLOGY TO WATER

 

since I can remember

I have been surrounded by you

protected by you

nurtured by you

 

there has not been one day that you have been absent

I have never thirsted for you

or looked hard for you

 

I bead the spaces you fill

to apologize to you

to morn for you

to honour yous

I am sorry I didn’t think of you more

I am sorry I didn’t do more

I am sorry I have wasted you

 

Since I can remember

I have been surrounded by you

protected by you

nurtured by you

I will do more for you