Go figure, you do one thing wrong and the entire reserve finds out about it within twenty-four hours. Why bother? A last name already establishes where you’re going in life; whether you’re the next chief or the next guy pumping gas down the road giving passer-through’s the rundown on the rez’ local history in the brief six minute interaction; the who’s who and what’s worth seeing on the way through town. In reality, they’re just being polite.Read Summer-Harmony Twenish's Headlights in the Distance
Kitigan Zibi Algonquin First Nation
My story is based on the many possible stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women here in Canada. It is an issue that has been in existence for many years and sadly does not seem to be going away. I have recently moved to Edmonton from my home reserve in Quebec. It has been six months since I moved here and it seems that the issue is always brought up in one way or another whereas in Quebec it is rarely heard of.
A few years ago two girls went missing from my home reserve of Kitigan Zibi. One of those girls was a friend of mine. I remember chatting with her online through instant messaging about a week before she disappeared. The news came as a shock to me because I was not living on my reserve at the time. In the beginning I believed they would be found a few days later and that it would not be as bad as we all assumed. The weeks passed on and the news I was hearing was never anything better than the weeks before.
To have someone in your life pass away is hard. To have someone in your life disappear completely and not have the comfort of knowing they are in a better place is probably a much worse feeling. It does not matter whether they were family or a mere acquaintance; the shock of it all is enough to shake you. The worst part of it all must be not knowing the name of a person responsible. In many cases of the missing and murdered women no one is brought to justice therefore the parents, siblings, friends and community members of the missing person cannot rest easily.
Through writing this story I hope to bring this issue into light for all. It is an issue that needs raised awareness and an issue that needs to be resolved.
Words are powerful tools and readers are powerful voices, at least in my opinion
The sky is darkening and the wind is chilling to the bone. May in the West and the winds blow colder than the tundra. Oh, let the gas station be nearby. Walking for hours with a back pack, outstretched thumb and a patience wearing thin. Frustration, anger, sadness. It’s too late to turn back; already half way there. No use, really. Who would want to head back to that old hole in the ground anyways?
Go figure, you do one thing wrong and the entire reserve finds out about it within twenty-four hours. Why bother? A last name already establishes where you’re going in life; whether you’re the next chief or the next guy pumping gas down the road giving passer-through’s the rundown on the rez’ local history in the brief six minute interaction; the who’s who and what’s worth seeing on the way through town. In reality, they’re just being polite. The gas here was cheaper than the closest town. Also, cigarettes. Many cigarette shops provide the kick of nicotine one needs at half the price and usually a free colourful lighter. It’s a win-win situation; profit and a fed addiction at half the price.
Headlights barely pass anymore. Looking up at the sky it’s about eight in the evening? Who knows. The cell phone died about four hours ago. Swear there’s a gas station somewhere near here… Somewhere.
The booze and drugs are hard to avoid on the rez. The harsh words spat about one another even harder. From a young age you seek acceptance, happiness and a decent fort in the backyard of kokom and shomis’ house. The best birch trees and pine trees. Of course, you couldn’t build so far in the backyard, what with all the bears and bag-ladies. As you grow up, everyone’s either a cousin or a best friend. Then high school. The mean glares and mockery one faces when peer pressure isn’t strong enough to shatter morals. Friends change. Drugs and alcohol take over the lives of the reserve’s only hopes. They were the next prime minister, the next activist and the next plain-old successful, happy being. You grew up the weird kid that never went out on Friday nights and things were whispered. Things were said. Things were shouted.
A shaking of the head to clear the crowded thoughts. Up ahead are the lights of the cheap diner and the over-priced middle-of-the-nowhere gas. Apparently it’s world class gasoline. Feet ache painfully and mouth is about as dry as the gravel under the tires that never pass. Pains in the legs and back show up that weren’t as relevant before. Maybe just a coffee.
Coffee. Shomis drinks about twenty pots of that a day. Roughly one pot of the brown strong liquid for every cigarette he smoked. Hard to believe the man is still going strong. Maybe it was the combination of onions and bannock he always devoured. That could very well be the key to his health. That or kokomis. She was always working that man to the bone and he never complained once. “Edgar, go grab me my beads from the room.” “Right away my honey.” “Asa, Edgar. Wrong ones. I said the red ones.” “Sorry my honey, I was looking with my nose.” His love so strong. Then again, the man wore his heart on his sleeve.
Maybe a muffin while legs relax. Back sore and stomach empty, an order is made. Five dollars. Must be good coffee. A table near the window, cherishing the moment of rest before the long night of walking and holding out a thumb. Dread filled the gut and thoughts were hazy with exhaustion. Nothing was really flowing through easily.
Down by the lake with a handful of fishing rods, enough bologna sandwiches to feed an elephant and a boat big enough for five. Another day for fishing and imagining all of the creatures swimming under the water’s surface awaiting you with an open maw. Turning off the engine if you see a beaver damn or a duck. The firing of the handy-dandy shotgun and the grunt of annoyance when shomis misses and kokomis takes over the gun (headshot). A real sniper, that woman is. Walking with a cane and bad eyes from years of sewing into the wee hours of the night. Then again, the woman grew up in the bush, so who really needs to see? She carries herself strong even after all the troubles she’s seen.
Lights pull up outside the window of the diner and a groggy, bleary-eyed family climbs out. A day full of travelling and the supper is only as good as the stuff at the next door gas station. A girl of about eleven plays around with an electronic device that a boy of about seven is crying over. The parents just shush and rub their temples. Must’ve been a long day. Headaches galore.
Music blasts and lights flash as the room spins around. People stretch and multiply into two or three doppelgangers. What’s happening? Why here? When the heck will it end? The drink sloshes back and forth like a pendulum in the stomach and nausea slips up the esophagus. Bathroom. Need a bathroom. Music thumps and the stomach heaves, expelling whatever’s left of what it couldn’t absorb. The party doesn’t stop. It never does when someone drinks themselves sick. It isn’t their problem. Why ruin the fun of the majority because one is spilling their guts? It’s to be expected, especially with the Indians. Man, those people can party hard. Legend goes there are those that can continue for days. Blacking out, waking up, starting again and eventually deciding it time to sober up because the welfare check ran dry.
Another car pulls up with flashing lights. Feet are strong enough to carry forward for another few hours. Here waitress, take the money. The coffee was burnt and the muffin was packaged in weird cellophane but here’s a decent tip earned because you work here of all places. Door opens and the bell rings when entering. In this case it was someone exiting. The road is long and winds on for what looks like years. Walk along the white line, not because you’re drunk but because you’ll land in anyone’s line of vision. After an hour or so lights in the distance flash. They speed by, go figure. Breaks squeal behind. A man jumps out and runs forward. No, you didn’t almost hit something. What’s in his hand? Too late. Everything goes black. Not even enough time for me to scream. The outside world disappears and is dead in the darkness of my mind.
A lake. Actually, a giant pond. We call it a lake. If you head too far to the right you’ll hit the mushies; too far to the left and you hit the weeds. Tadpoles and minnows swim around your toes if you stand still long enough. Don’t go too deep or you’ll find a snapping turtle. Rumour has it they also like toes. Venture into the weeds and you can actually find yourself a nice little froggy that’ll keep you entertained for about five minutes. Poor frog. Trees surround the dirty pond. Pines, Birch, Maple. Leaves rustle in the wind like chimes and the crickets and crows chorus together for you. A symphony of nature. In nature. At peace. The blue sky sits vacant, leaving the clouds somewhere else for others to deal with. Today is your day. My day. The day. The birds stop singing and all that is left is the water surrounding my toes, my calves, my thighs, my torso, my shoulders, my neck. All me enveloped in the deep sandy water from my youth. Disappearing under the surface and this time I hold my breath for an eternity.