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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Home for the holidays

BY Will Nicholls Jan 17, 2020

It had been a while since I celebrated New Year’s Eve in my hometown of Mistissini. My two sons, Hunter and Declan, and I boarded an Air Creebec flight December 27 – the first time either of the boys had been on an airplane. They were both excited and apprehensive as the plane took off for the 90-minute flight.

Upon landing, Declan immediately wanted to play in the snow as there wasn’t much of it in Montreal. It was the luck of the draw that I didn’t have to worry about it being -40º with the wind chill as we Cree have often experienced in the past. Even for me, it’s still quite a sight to see the pine, tamarack and fir trees clothed in snow like something on a Christmas card. The boys were fascinated. 

I must thank my cousin Natalie Tawabino for loaning us her house for the first few days. As she had two one-year-old Labrador dogs we were expected to take care of them. Declan was a little leery as it is difficult to have pets in Montreal. Most landlords there don’t rent to people with dogs. Luckily, that’s not the case in Mistissini. After the first day Declan lost his fear of dogs and was claiming Milo as his own. This was his first real experience being a part of a Cree community.

Dad loaned us his side-by-side ATV to get around. The boys loved it as we used it to visit family and friends, and to go shopping. Everywhere we went, I would introduce them to relatives they never knew they had. Everyone made sure they were welcomed warmly as is the Cree way of life. That’s so different from city life where one of the first things you learn at daycare is “stranger danger”.

During the free community breakfast at Adels Restaurant (see story on page 7), Hunter asked the server for bacon and got a bowl full of his favourite breakfast food. Both family and friends came over to say hello and see the boys. It’s a Cree thing that is part welcome but also part examination, which goes beyond acceptance.

Bringing the boys home was important to me and something it seems that is difficult for the government, the courts, the welfare system and some non-Indigenous people to understand. Being separated from your people, culture, land and way of life has had terrible impacts on people and communities. Only now are we starting to see changes, and even the short week we had in there was something that I know will be important for the growth and well-being of my sons. It is the same for any child of Indigenous descent.

Even those (or most) who attended residential school were able to go home for the summer. Then you rejoined the Cree way of life and played with the dogs, and spent time with your parents, grandparents and extended family. It reminded us that you were loved. That’s part of being home whether it’s for the holidays or any other day.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.