...I guess life was pretty hard up here. I imagine it's pretty easy to verify that cuz I think life's been hard on a lot of people up here...
Nowadays everything is so complicated...My grandmother, she was very different too, a very very quiet person. She spent a lot of time collecting weeds, leaves, certain plants. She'd make what we called potions. A lot of people come around too when they had problems. They would come to her and she would give them something to help them, some kind of medicine. I've never had the opportunity to study what she was really doing as I was pretty young yet, but sometimes I'd tag around. She used to like to talk to us about certain things.
I guess she kind of chose me out of a whole group of kids. For some reason I seemed more attentive, more interested in a lot of things she was doing. A lot of my older brothers and sisters, they were helping out. They'd get jobs, make money, because life was starting to change at a drastic rate. It got to a point where the old bartering systems were starting to fade away. It started to be a cash-only basis...Everybody wanted money because you had to have money to buy certain things. I think money ruined a lot of people's lives...
The average age they started leaving home was 14, 15 years of age...very very young. Some of them were getting married at that age. So the family got smaller very quickly. Because of this, you could see an older generation, a middle generation and a younger generation. I was the tail end of the middle generation so I was on both sides of the fence there. That's probably why I was very fortunate to witness a lot of the events changing the world. I've experienced the old ways and I lived the new ways. I grew up confused on a lot of issues because a lot of the old ways worked so darn well. They couldn't be improved any more than they were. Man still tries to improve improve, improve. Everything is always "New and Improved!" The Creator gave us basic things that didn't need any improving but it seams man is always trying to find better things than what they already have. A lot of times they should stop and think of the things that they have and appreciate it more.
As I'm getting older, I got myself caught into the new things and the improved things. I went that way a ways and then years went by and I find out that things weren't that way anymore. So I started searching back to the old ways again and it was difficult because it had been such a long time. And the search always goes on. I started finding myself again a couple years ago, maybe five or six years, probably age thirty-five. It's quite an age to be born again. You have to start with your baby steps and work your way back up. I started asking things and inquiring. When I started to inquire about my family roots, where I come from, who I am. One thing I had found out is before I can go anywhere I had to find out where I came from. It's to know which direction I came from, you have to have a base to work from...
Metis people, or what they used to be called back then, Half-breeds, they were treated very differently from the rest of society: semi-accepted in some areas, but they weren't accepted by either side for the longest time. There was a lot of resentment. I could see why with the Native people way back and their resentment toward Whites and all that. A lot of them didn't like the blood mixture. Same as with the whites, didn't like the blood mixture, but that goes on always. That's part of civilization. Look throughout history. It didn't matter where you go, people didn't like people mixing, didn't like Blacks mixing with Whites, didn't like the Italians mixing with the Romanians or the Turks and so forth and so forth, which is kind of a pity because if it wasn't for that, there wouldn't be much civilization...You wouldn't know who was across the lake! You'd have to be a pretty good thinker, I'd say, to maneuver around the politics involved of that certain era...
Nowadays, we have something and afterwards it's no good. It's a throwaway society, eh? Those days, nothing was ever thrown away. You got a shovel; it broke, you fixed it. You didn't just throw a shovel away and buy another shovel. Then again, a lot things were made to last, too, not like today.
When you're growing up, you hear some of the stories you come across, like legends and stories. I remember Grandma sitting there and Jocko would come over, bring over a moose quarter and they used to smoke a pipe. And I would ask, "Why do we do that?" It was a prayer time and so Jocko told me that with the Cree people, it was very important to always respect the animals and a sense of respect was to whenever they went out to go on a hunt they would always have a little ceremony first. The hunters would purify themselves. Some would smudge; others had the sweat lodge. They would always have a pipe, smoke a pipe. And this tobacco...I never knew what the weeds were, I was pretty young. He said that they always smoked a pipe, in a prayer, they asked the Creator and also the smoke was to go to the Moose as a sign of respect and I heard a story once about this. There was a lodge and there was three Moose sitting in this lodge and they were sitting around, there was a campfire. They were keeping warm, I guess and all of a sudden this natural pipe was floating into the lodge and all the other moose ran away from it but this younger bull moose took the pipe and smoked it and the older Moose said, "You shouldn't have smoked that pipe. That's all I can say. You shouldn't have taken that pipe."
So the next morning the three moose left the lodge and were grazing out on the land. All of a sudden one heard hunters coming and started to run. The third moose, the one who had smoked the pipe started to follow them. The head moose said, "You shouldn't have taken the pipe." As soon as he said that, there was an arrow that came and hit that third moose.
The third moose, at that time, knew why he had smoken' that pipe. The other Moose stopped and looked back. "See, you shouldn't have smoken' that pipe cuz every time the pipe comes around anyone who smokes that pipe they're about to die."
But the moose who was laying there said to them, "It's okay because the pipe came as a sign of respect. The hunters are doing things the proper way. By smoking the pipe, I gave myself to them. I gave them permission to take me as food to sustain them. Whey they're done with me my spirit will carry on. If they shot me without the proper respect, my spirit would have died, but now my spirit lives."
That's an amazing story...I see that as the circle of life, a proper respect. Years and years later I head the same story. Joseph Bruchac, he's an Abernaque...That story, every time I hear it, it just puts shivers down my spine.
It's funny how you think it's a small world. But there's more to stories than someone telling stories. Now I know for a fact that there's more to it than just a story being told by this old Indian person. It has my curiosity.
RVC: It called your name...
Mike: Yes! ...I truly believe the Creator has a purpose for me. He's telling me which way to go and basically now I'm letting go of a lot of things I used to be so involved with. At one time, the most important thing for me was to make money, make money, make lots of money. And I've made so much, you know, made it, lost it. It seems it's a waste of my life, like I was going down a spiral. There are so many people caught in those ways. It's unbelievable. You see a lot of it. They'll work. They're hard workers. They'll spend every minute living just trying to acquire these materialistic things and it seems like a total waste. They're so self involved that they don't see the beauty out there...they don't stop and look around, see the beauty of nature itself. A lot of them don't even stop to talk to the animals anymore. I had lost communication with a lot of animals.
I remember as a child I used to be able to run through the forest. There's all sorts of life in the wilderness. I feared none of them but as I was growing older I got out of that. I got involved with the self spiral of life. I lost track. I never made time to walk in the forest. Anytime I went back to the forest, I was so nervous. Every little crack I'd feel fear. I couldn't understand why. I had lost touch with myself and I had to find myself again. Now I go back to the forest very much now. I'm very comfortable. As I've said, I've walked up to bears many times. I see them. They see me. I go my way. They go theirs. It's no big deal. At one time if I would have saw one, I would have run like a bat out of hell!
But that happens when you lose touch with yourself. I think it's time for a lot of people out there to really, truly find themselves because do you know the legend about the white raven?
It's an old legend. It belongs to the Cree people as well. Many many years ago. Have you ever heard the story about the bird who made meat turn bitter?
Well these hunters would go out and hunt and bring in their catch, you know, help their family. And this bird would fly out from apparently from out of nowhere and would yell out, "Go bitter! Go bitter!" and the meat would go bitter. It went on and on and on. The hunters would try to go as fast as they could and, even still, the bird would catch up and make the meat go bitter.
So, there was this one hunter, and he went to see this medicine man. His name was Coyote, this medicine man. They asked him about it. He had told them to get the fastest hunters out. "The bird you're looking for," he said, "it's living in a hollow tree, and whenever the hunters are coming by the bird will fly out and make the meat go bitter. What you'll have to do is set a trap. And when that bird comes out you've got to catch it, kill it, and have a bonfire ready to throw the bird into the fire. Once the bird is in the fire there'll be a few birds who will fly out of that. They will go free. You have to make sure that you kill this bird very well. Crush the bones after it has burned. Make sure it has all turned to powder," He said. "There will be a final bird that will fly out of all of this fire and this bird will be a white raven. Once this is done you will only see this bird once and you'll never see it again, but I caution you, the day that this bird is ever seen again, whoever sees the white raven again, this will mean it's the end times..."
Apparently they did all this, got their fastest hunters and the bird flew out. They netted it, brought it down. The hunter beat it with a club and the strangest thing he saw. He said, "The bird was like a raven, but it had a human head, a human face." It really scared him. He pounded and pounded, threw it in the fire, crushed up the bones as the Coyote man told him. Of course there were a few little birds that flew out and, he says, "There was the white raven that flew out." He said once the white raven flew out he knew he had done what he was supposed to have done, but as the legend goes, whoever sees the white raven again, it will be the end times.
I heard a story once of someone who thought they had spotted the white raven. He had possibly thought it might be...
...I believe I have one special task that I have to do. I will find out what it is. As the days go on I find myself getting more and more in touch. Dreams, visions come to me more and more, the same as I had when I was a child. I think I got lost for quite a few years and I just found my path again...
I come across the younger generation and they are all searching. It's harder for them now to go to the elders because a lot of the elders speak in the old tongue and they don't really understand. And sometimes [an elder] has to sit down and talk with them and say, "This is how it is" in an English language to understand each other, thus hopefully encourage them to learn their language. A lot of the Cree language is dying...I know a few words. I know that I'll look it up again but right now that's not the most important thing. Maybe these stories have to get out as a priority cuz I strongly believe that there's a lot of aboriginal people who no longer speak their language who have been lost but who have come back. And they've been searching for a long time too, not knowing where to go. Who knows? Maybe I can help them that way.
Mike is a Metis of Cree and French ancestry. He was born in South Porcupine, North Ontario, known now as the city of Timmins. He was born on February 17, 1956. The tape Mike refers to is called Stories from Joseph Bruchac by Joseph Bruchac. The story on the tape is called, "How the People Hunted the Moose."