It’s the weekend of the Doig River Rodeo and we close the office on Friday afternoon to travel out for supper and entertainment. We’ve been driving about an hour on a dusty, pot holed, gravel road out of Fort St. John towards Rose Prairie when we see a large sign by the side of the road that says:“You are now entering Doig River First Nation.
I’m excited. I’ve been dying to get out to the communities that comprise Treaty 8 ever since I arrived and this is my first time. Susan nods in my direction as we pass the sign.
We continue on across the prairie, teasing and sparring and telling stories. Susan shows us the turning to the farm where the white baby buffalo was born earlier that month. She and Marvin had seen the baby; managed to touch it before it had sickened and died and Susan saw that as a good omen. The birth of the white buffalo had been a sign of peace and unity for all First nations and everyone had taken it to heart when the baby died. It was time to put aside differences and unite, people said, so that the next white buffalo might survive.
The yellow canola fields seem to streak the horizon with gold and mix with stands of Purple Loosestrife and creamy green wheat in a riot of colour. Wild flowers are everywhere and I see the head of a deer pop up, ears waving like flags, as we zoom by. The Beatton River cuts this flat landscape like a sacred wound, flanked with trees and lush growth; forcing the road to drop down sharply to cross it before winding up the other side in a switchback of wide bends. Susan and Dave are still swapping jokes while Marvin weaves in and out of the potholes and as we pull into the rodeo grounds.
We wander across the pasture towards the arbor, breathing in the perfume of cottonwoods and clover. Susan and Marvin find a place to sit on the bleachers with a good view of the stage and dancing circle; Dave disappears to socialize, returning with the entire Brazilian Dance Troupe a short while later; and I stroll to the bank of the Doig River to take photos. The water is blood red from soil deposits upstream and I hear someone say it’s from construction outside the reserve, but looking back at the teepees between the trees, it’s a peaceful and quiet scene. All afternoon, Dave has been moaning about us being late; which we were.
“C’mon you guys. Hurry up!” he’d said. “We’ll miss the opening ceremonies and the drummin’. It starts at 1pm sharp.” But by 3pm, there’s still nobody in the arbor except us and one or two others – no one seems to be too worried about it either. The ease of late afternoon fits the lack of activity and Stewart’s daughter, a fourteen year old with a voice like Shania Twain, takes the opportunity to practice singing, much to our delight, a couple of local dogs, and of course the Brazilian Dance Troupe.
By five though, there’s a steady trickle of folks arriving. Chief Oker has finished the official opening and prayer, the Elders are drumming, the fire is lit and supper is underway. This is my first gathering and I’m soaking it up like the rain that threatens to dump on us anytime. I don’t want it to end.