Halloween was always a big deal for me, my family and friends back in Attawapiskat when I was growing up. This event full of goblins, monsters and funny costumes is still prominent in remote Indigenous communities up the James Bay coast and across Canada.
The Cree of James Bay love to laugh. We find humour in just about everything you can imagine. My non-Indigenous friends find it a little puzzling when we Cree get together and start poking fun at just about anything. We laugh at silly little things that might not seem funny to many non-Indigenous people. We joke about tragic events, and this makes some uneasy. We mercilessly kid each other all the time.
Celebrating events like Halloween so intensely probably has to do with needing to forget our troubles and the difficulties of living in our remote Indigenous communities. We suffer from living with poverty, poor housing, substandard healthcare, addictions and systemic racism. We look for ways to forget it all and find some time to act silly, pretend we are something else and to laugh and rejoice at getting together for fun.
You might see on social media that people up the James Bay coast have been preparing for Halloween for weeks. This is normal for us. Everyone takes great pride in figuring out what costumes they will wear. They work hard and long at developing creative handmade costumes. It is not just about the free candy as becoming someone else for a day and providing a thrill or laugh for others.
Of course, it really does not make a lot of sense for everyone to be eating so much candy and chocolate in enormous quantities, especially when many Indigenous people have problems with diabetes. However, the classic Halloween is as much about sugar as it is about costumes and laughter.
Every year there are events where the best costumes are selected during gatherings and people are rewarded with gifts and prizes. I recall many Halloween events where everyone was thrilled to participate and react to the creative costumes people had put together for this special fun night. For a day our small First Nation became inhabited by ghosts, goblins, pirates, princesses, kings, queens and cartoon characters.
I recall everyone being lost and involved in laughter and excitement. For one day you could be a clown, a cartoon character or even a terrorizing monster. There was and will always be something magical about that. It is pure theatre.
One image that will always stay in the minds of my family and friends was when my late dad Marius dressed up as the Pope for Halloween. He looked perfect and could have been taken him for a high-ranking member of the church if he had walked onto the Vatican grounds. He made the costume come to life with his mischievous ways and a Kataquapit sparkle in his laughing eyes.
My nephew Adam decided this year to dress up as a high priest. When I saw this image on social media I immediately thought of my dad and how much he liked to laugh and have fun. It was good to see Adam reminding all of us about the importance of laughter, joy and fun.
So, happy Halloween to everyone and I hope you all manage to enjoy the day. Pay tribute to laughter, fun, pretending and forgetting momentarily all the troubles in the world today. Enjoy the candy and chocolates and if you are out and about on the streets take care of traffic.
Be aware that we are still in the middle of a Covid pandemic and that means wearing a mask, staying away from close contact with others while moving around town and washing your hands well when you get home.
If you see anyone dressed up like the Covid spike virus, make sure to keep your distance.