I’ve been asked to follow up on some genealogical requests and I’m completely carried away by the research involved. I love the work and Rob knows it, but we miss each other and need the trading of stories over the phone to make contact.
We hear jets flying low and loud over the Treaty 8 offices. It’s the Snowbirds arriving for the Fort St. John Airshow tomorrow. The stories colour and weave their way through the weeks in a chaotic jumble that slowly works under my skin, breaking down any sense of control that I might imagine I have.
At first, it’s other people’s stories I read about in the TARR archive. I struggle to piece together the barrage of information coming from all sides and annotate a box full of files from the seventies and eighties, thinking of it, at first, as just part of the job. But the reading causes irrevocable change. Story after story of struggle and privation pitted against indifference, belligerence and outright hostility can’t help but remove the Vancouver veneer. Over and over I ask myself how I could possibly have missed all this. How had it passed me by for so long? The days at work with Susan are punctuated by squeals of “You’ll never guess what I’ve just found…” and “You’ve gotta come see this…” as we route through old letters and Indian Affairs documents from the 1800’s.
It’s not long before I start to link the names in the documents with people all around me. It’s like a light bulb going on as I realize that those I work with and those I’m introduced to are part of the original families that took treaty. The stories I’ve been reading of epidemics that wiped out entire regions, of starvation and abuse, of houses burned and land deeds stolen are the stories of their grandparents and great grandparents. These issues are not past; not ‘history’ I realize. Many of them are still being fought twenty or thirty years later and new issues harp back to the original conception and wording of Treaty 8 in 1899, keeping it painfully relevant in the face of so many conflicting interests.
Before I know it, I’m no longer outside looking in. I’m part of the stories. Susan and I edit a three hundred page Specific Claim which is being filed against the Government and which must get to the Chiefs for their next meeting. Dave and I sit in on negotiations like flies on a wall, while Susan takes minutes, typing like a freak to catch the gist of the discussions. Then it’s Aboriginal day and we’re doing a display. We scan photos from the archive, print them and make presentation boards all in one day, even though the office looks as though kindergarten classes from six schools have just blown through. Dave pulls the TARR bear off the wall and drapes it over a box, then we spend an hour shrieking as people pass by in the hall and see the huge grizzly head staring back through the glass door. It pours with rain and all plans of an outside celebration go to pot; something I’m beginning to realize is part of how things work up here. But everyone piles into the Recreation Centre at the invitation of the staff. I try to imagine this happening in Surrey or Richmond and roll my eyes at the thought. We set up our display, socialize, do a circle dance, eat bannock with honey. Our Grizzly is a big hit. Every kid in the place has to touch. It’s a talisman against meeting the real thing maybe. At another time, Connie tells us how she often dreams that a Grizzly is following her, but he never hurts her, just follows. Everyone has a story like that and I tell mine so that they too weave into the fabric of life in this place. Dreams have import. Their significance and meaning is not taken lightly.
Susan bowls into work just after eight. “I dreamt you won money last night,” she says. We look at each other hard. “Wow,” I say. “What does that mean?” “I dunno,” Susan replies. “I should phone my mum and ask her.” We’ve phoned Susan’s mum a few times before to ask how to say things in Cree. Susan is trying to teach me the odd word and phrase, but when we can’t pronounce something we phone her mum, who speaks Cree fluently. So she phones her mum about the dream. I see her nod; “Uh huh,” she says. “Oh, ok.” She looks serious. “What’d she say?” I ask. “She says it probably means you’re gonna win money.” Susan replies and we look at each other again. There is, after all, not much to say about an answer like that. “Makes sense,” I say and she agrees. I go buy a Super 7 with the extra at lunch.