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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Memories of the past

BY Sonny Orr Jul 17, 2021

I’m driving my granddaughter around the beach for no other reason than just to get out of the house and enjoy life. We stop and the little one takes off towards the shore, then turns around in joy squealing to get away from the small waves that gently wash up onto the sands where the Great Whale River meets Hudson Bay. 

I think back to times on the shores of Fort George Island where we did the same thing, except with a lot fewer kids my age, as many of my friends had gone back home for the summer. I knew them during the long school months and grew up with them, my friends from other towns. The summers went by as usual, long days and short nights.

Soon, the first sign of fall would appear and so would the planes filled with kids from the other communities arriving for the new school year. For eight years, we grew up together, but they would leave every summer. I knew that they didn’t like the idea of leaving home just to go to school for 10 months of the year. 

For us, the locals who lived in town, their arrival meant seeing old friends and making new ones. It was a cycle that didn’t seem to have an end. Then when we got older, we would disappear to finish school in the south, which was yet another scary experience for all of us.

Today on that beach, I thank our wisdom, tainted by the past, to do what we should have been done a long time ago – stay in town and finish school, without having to leave against our will. But it didn’t happen that way. Over a century of forced education and child abuse by a system designed to do that, it’s something I wish on no child. No child should ever endure this ever again.

We get back on the ATV and head down the beach and watch others enjoy zipping in and out of the foaming waves. It’s fun, and I wish this could go on longer, and so does my granddaughter, so we do another spin around the beach. The only thing I feel guilty about are the exhaust fumes from my half-litre engine, but that guilt dissipates quickly. 

Summer showed up for eight hours and we weren’t going to waste time indoors, mosquitos or no mosquitos. I think of my old school chums and bet that they are doing a similar thing – getting away from the heat and remembering the past that won’t leave our memories. In the future, no child will have our kinds of memories, just the ones that last forever with all the smiles.

After a quick trip to the toilet and a fast bite of a hot dog, the little one is all refreshed. She points at our matching orange hoodies and says “same-same”. Yes, same-same, but never the same again. 

I know the future is way brighter than it has ever been, and I hope it stays that way for a long time.

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.