Indigenous Arts & Stories - The Boy with Eyes of Fire

The Boy with Eyes of Fire

2012 - Writing Winner

Highway two slowly disappeared from my vision as I entered the limits of the city. The bright, illuminating street lights and immense, perfectly designed skyscrapers welcomed me to my new home. My new home, words that not only manifest feelings of optimism but also of pessimism for it means I left something behind. I hesitantly think back to these last few months with both amazing clarity and frustrating blurriness.

Read Billy-Ray Belcourt's The Boy with Eyes of Fire

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Joussard, AB
Driftpile First Nation
Age 17

Author's Statement

As a passionate, determined, and concerned Aboriginal person I chose to write a short story based on the tragically fatal drive-by shootings on the Hobbema First Nation, southwest of Edmonton, Alberta. These shootings occurred both in July and September of 2011, taking victim a young boy and a young woman. Casualties to the message I aspired to depict in my writing.

Evidently, gang violence has been rampant on many of Canada’s reservations especially in the twenty-first century. This violence has undoubtedly stemmed from a lack of education, resulting in widespread poverty, and unfortunately hopelessness. Our forefathers have been hindered by these forces since the major acts of assimilation imposed on our culture based on the First Nation reservation system. This oppression has inevitably caused this collective to become unable to flourish.

This young boy, who never had the chance to live a full life, and this young woman at the peak of her maturity, are only recent victims to the terrible legacy derived from the ethnocentrism that omnisciently lingered since the first meeting between my ancestors and the European explorers.

Essentially, the utmost reason for writing about this topic was to portray the negative impacts that have arisen most notably from the Indian Act, establishing the reservations across Canada. This cultural segregation has deeply ‘trapped’ First Nations people, causing them to lack the capabilities to transition into other regions or to change their communities.

My solution, also a major theme of my short story, is that education is the most pivotal key to change and success. My generation and the generations to come need to put a vivid emphasis on improving education rates and ultimately encouraging more Aboriginal youth to attend post-secondary institutes, to ultimately help youth care about their education. We cannot turn a blind eye to instances like these ones. Instead we must learn from our mistakes, find solutions, and make improvements in order to move forward. As a result, we will be capable of challenging the current status quo and putting our dreams, ambitions, and hopes into action for a better future not only for Aboriginal collectives, but also for our nation, Canada.


The Boy with Eyes of Fire

Highway two slowly disappeared from my vision as I entered the limits of the city. The bright, illuminating street lights and immense, perfectly designed skyscrapers welcomed me to my new home. My new home, words that not only manifest feelings of optimism but also of pessimism for it means I left something behind.

I hesitantly think back to these last few months with both amazing clarity and frustrating blurriness.

Three months ago today, I was driving back into the slowly dilapidating but convivial Driftpile First Nation.  A group of teens, who presumably skipped school, were glancing at us with envy and hate. Eris and I shrugged the leers away effortlessly as usual. We both attended St. Andrew’s Catholic School in the nearby town of High Prairie. We had always gone to school in High Prairie, never bothering to attend the reserve school, my grandparents forbad it. Eris was my sister, nine months younger than me, and she was in grade eleven. I was in grade twelve and soon I’d be onto bigger, better things. Well, this is what I liked to tell myself. The Driftpile First Nation didn’t necessarily have the best rates for post-secondary school or anything for that matter. People seemed to never leave, and if they did, they surely would return. However, this only slightly put a damper on my goals and ambitions. My chapan had given me the Cree name, the boy with eyes of fire. She had told me the name in Cree, but sadly I had forgotten what she said. I’m still not sure why my chapan called me this, and I can’t ask her for she passed on last year.

“Let’s just drive around in the car for a bit, there’s nothing to do at home anyways” Eris suggested.

Eris was a beautiful, young native girl about average height and weight. Her light brown hair flowed softly down her smooth face and her smile lightened any room. She was the kindest person anyone would ever meet, resultantly everyone loved her. She had also been regarded as the most talented young musician and songwriter in Alberta, a ‘prodigy’ was what they called her. Many of the white guys in town had competed for her attention; however she dismissed them. The native guys here never bothered to even talk to her; they knew she was out of their league.  Plus, I was too protective anyways.

“We can’t, you know kokum gets worried if we aren’t home at four without a good reason” I replied, without looking at her, she was undoubtedly giving me the puppy eyes.

“Fine, I have a book to finish reading anyways” she reluctantly answered.

I let the music consume our conversation and as I turned off the highway onto the gravel road I noticed something that caught my attention, and kept it tightly in its grasp. A group of guys had assembled by the band office, suspiciously looking at my house. Peering closely at every detail, noticing the flowery curtains covering Eris’ window and the blue plaid curtains covering mine. One guy made an imperceptible motion in the air pointing at the lucid flowers that decorated the curtain. I turned towards Eris quickly making sure that she didn’t see it.  Grasping her hand too tightly that she winced and I released immediately. She only shot a confused look at me then turned away. Quickly, I rushed her out of my car and into safety.

“How was your last day?” kokum asked as we entered the house.

“It was good; we both did well on our exams”

“Good job my boy, my girl” kokum smiled delightfully at us. “Supper will be done soon now go wash up.”

Kokum was very loving and gentle, we were her world and she did everything in her power to make our lives a little better each day. She told us that she came back to the reserve for many reason but mainly, she says, was to help chapan while she was ill.

“Supper’s ready and I’m going to bingo tonight so eat lots.”

Eris and I sat at the table in our usual spots; mooshum had arrived home from work and rested quietly at his chair. Kokum went on a rant about how mooshum never goes to bingo with her anymore and she always has to sit by herself in the corner. Tonight she won’t be alone.  Six o’clock came by swiftly and they got ready to leave.

“See you guys later, love you, don’t do anything stupid” kokum said as she exited the house.

As they left, through the living room window I noticed a large, black owl perched on the fence at the edge of our yard, this unnerved me so I let the drapes block the sight.

“I’m going to my room” Eris said immediately, throwing her hair back and leaving the living room.

She had her music blaring and her passionate voice began to fill the house. However, she suddenly stopped singing and turned off her music. I sat for a while then curiously decided to go check on her. The floor creaked and the cold invaded my exposed feet. I shuddered then opened her door to notice her intensely looking out of her window. Before I could ask her what she was doing a car drove by and the guy from the band office leapt out the window holding something firmly in his right hand. In an instant those lucid flowery curtains began to frantically gallop as Eris got thrown back by the impact of the bullets. Glass shattered and fell rigidly, mirroring my heart. She landed with such intensity that her frenzied body got thrown into the air again then back onto the hardwood floor. Her limbs spread out immediately and hair covered her face.  I screamed but my voice was drowned by multiple gunshots. With such ferocity I jumped over her body to notice the bullet wound to her upper chest. Right above her heart.

“ERIS!” I screamed again but with such fear and anguish that I started to sob uncontrollably; I manifested the courage to draw her hair back over her ear.

I noticed her pale, but still mesmerizing face fixated on mine. She leaned in to whisper something to me but her voice was too faint and it got lost in the panic. Her chest started to convulse and the life began to slowly disappear from her youthful face. Blood then leaked from her mouth gently as to not disturb her beauty and her pupils began to dilate. Any pigment of life that was once in her body had left forever. There I lay, over my sister’s limp, lifeless body and the only emotion I could conjure up is shame. Why could I not protect my sister one last time?

The next few days I spent in a state of shock. My kokum came to visit me at the hospital. My mooshum never showed, probably because I did nothing to save her. A thought that still haunts me.

When I returned home I noticed there was a memorial on the fence outside of our house. A yellow rose was the centre piece and it was encircled by multiple teddy bears, pictures of Eris, and an eagle feather over the top. Police officers still lingered throughout the reserve and especially around the house. There had been no arrests for there were no willing witnesses.

The rest of the summer was a blur, for I spent it in the presence of my devastated mooshum and inconsolable kokum. I had been slowly preparing myself to leave my grandparents for university; this would only make it harder for them. The day had come. My kokum hugged me tightly; her tears had been dropping on my shirt.

“Please, don’t leave me” she whispered “you’re all I have left.”

“I have to” these words echoed in the stillness.

I finally left the reserve today, but with a promise to return, to return for my people that I left behind. And as I drove into the city, from highway two, captivated by the bright, illuminating street lights and immense, perfectly designed skyscrapers I looked into the rear view mirror of my car and didn’t see someone who was weak and anguished and who had been grieving. I saw the boy with eyes of fire.