The river was never just part of the landscape, it was where Stanley and the other children played, swam, skated, and snared rabbits along its banks for mom’s stewing pot. The river was where you could see the marvel of thousands of pickerel and jackfish journeying to spawn in the spring and then returning to their other home in Lake Winnipeg. (The tenth largest fresh water lake in the world.). Much of the well being and life of this first nations village had this little river, Fisher River running through it. Like many other first peoples‘ communities built on lakes and rivers, the waters and their shoreline was and is the lifeline. And so was this river to the young boy Stanley, who like many other children, was taken from his home and sent to a residential school on the other side of the province.
For generations, residential schools, it was argued readied first nations children for living in the dominant society. Children were not simply to be taught courses of learning: english language and literature, math, science etc. They were to be taught a different way of life and made to unlearn the life they had known. Children were not helped to build on the good things they already knew. Children were often punished for speaking the language and therefore the love, they learned at their family’s knee. The language which was so crucial to feeling, seeing, thinking, remembering their world of relations. Residential school usually meant not only learning to forget who you were, but to forget the pleasure in who you were. How incredibly difficult to know the goodness of your “being” in such a “bullydom”.
But sometimes, a person is given to find a place, a time, a doing of something that helps them remember deep down with pleasure who they are.( Such pleasure does not exclude times of sadness, or loneliness.) At the school,where young Stanley went , there were what was called “free time”. Students could go into town on who’s edge the school was located. They could buy a trinket at the general store or perhaps have a coke at the Chinese restaurant. Instead, Stanley and his friends Gus and Arnold would go across the fields into a bush where a little river ran. In the late summer and fall, the river ran clear like the river at home. But this river had more shale rock than limestone and granite. While the bush had no spruce trees, it had lots of poplar and willow. Red and yellow. In places there was tall grass and reeds, and where the water was quite, there were marsh marigolds. Familiar birds: Finches, Song Sparrows, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Grosbeaks and Sparrow Hawks. Sometimes, the terror of mice, the Snowy Owl. It wasn’t home, but, the river and all was enough like home to help remember home, and who you really really were.
Sometimes Stanley and the others would snare a rabbit. Light a fire. Roast pieces of rabbit on sticks. By the rivers of Babylon, they sat down, ate rabbit by that river, and remembered home. Listening to the river sounds, tasting food from the river shore, and in Cree telling stories of times with uncles and aunties. Stanley remembered being with his mother in the kitchen, helping his father chop wood and build new steps, The sitting by the river, eating rabbit by the river re-membered Stanley. Joined him again to the goodness he was given and to which he belonged.The river landscape, he once lived, became for a time loud and tasty inside. Home was nearly inside him, was inscape. And it let him escape the forgetting.
Rivers, like rabbits can keep more than our body alive. For sacrament, symbol nourished creatures, rivers and their lively water can slake many kinds of thirst.
Talking Water Project|Bob Haverluck (2013)