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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Remembering the memories

BY Sonny Orr Dec 7, 2021

I met an old friend, someone who brought me back to the pre-adolescence years when our Cree culture teachers taught us a lot of different things that we needed to know to stay alive. Many of the teachings were basic but solid like the paddles and snow shovels we carved. The hunting bags and moccasins were the same, handmade and built to take a lot of use. No Gucci in sight, I’m afraid.

The sleds we made were rudimentary but exacting. The planks planed to the right angle and the snow-piercing runner had modern steel on it, that could be fixed with an axe if and when it broke. One teacher showed us how to hunt the snowy owl. A naturally curious bird always on the hunt for food, hovered above the stuffed rabbit we dragged behind a long twine, and was close enough to knock out with .22 in mid-air. We would trek along the snowy willowed banks of the island and repeat the baiting ritual while testing our sharpshooter’s eye. No one noticed the cold, and time and distance went by far too quickly as we headed back for lunch. 

Those days were rare as most activities were enacted indoors during lousy weather, but carving figurines and tools kept us busy. It was better than repeating the “passe-composer” over and over again. The storytelling by our dedicated teacher kept us quiet and our culture was taught to us in school. 

The other classes were not as interesting except maybe geography, where we figured out where we were in the world. Math was an excruciating experience for a few and so was history, never realizing that it was mostly misinformation anyways.

As far as I remember, recess was the best part of school, and that’s where friendships began allowing us to remember each other for decades to come. Like my old friend who might have mistaken me for my brother, until we talked about the way education was done back then. That 10-minute conversation sparked my memories.

I’m glad we didn’t talk about all the church attending we had to do as it was by far the most painful part of life, enacted rituals in a slow monotonic manner in the chapel of the residential school. At least in the local church, the preacher added some fire and spit in his readings of the Bible, thoroughly entertaining some as we stuck to an unmoving state, too scared to be struck by lightning if we acted up. At least that what it sounded like.

But at the turn of that decade, the 1970s rolled in with a new type of education, controlled by us. It was a better way to teach the masses, all within our temperament and needs. 

My buddy and I really don’t have much to talk about, except those lingering memories. All the other information is literally at our fingertips these days, but memories of those unrecorded days are numbered and should be kept alive and shared.

I head back carefully waving bye to my old friend. Although we never stayed in contact for over 50 years, it just seemed like it was yesterday instead of yesteryear, and I thank him for yanking those memories out of storage for me to recall. After being drenched with social media and movie streaming, I feel that my memories are being overwritten and again, real life is reality after all.

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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.