The entire night I would lay in my bed searching for an answer as to why this spirit would make its existence known to me. Was it because I had forgotten my ways, forgotten what I was taught?Read Shady Hafez's Change of the Season
My Name is Shady Hafez. I am half Algonquin from Kitigan Zibi, Quebec. As well as half Syrian. My story is about an experience I had when I returned to my reserve to live until I was able to organize my life. A strange phenomenon was occurring and it was unexplainable to everyone in the community. The fear was at a high level.
I am telling my story form a first person perspective, most of what is told is of my memory of what had happened in that month, however some parts are purely fictional to add a creative storytelling element to my story.
The main message of my story is to always remember and respect our traditional ceremonies. Which I personally have faith in. I believe it was a lack of remembrance and respect of ceremony that lead to the strange happenings in my community. As well the eventual practice of them that lead for the unexplainable events to disappear.
I hope you enjoy my story, and hopefully understand what I was trying to express.
The winds of the coming season were blowing in my face with the recognizable scent of a disappearing summer. Leaves were beginning to show signs of decay as they turned from the darkest of greens to the brightest shades of orange. Grey seemed to fill the endless sky. Autumn was fastly approaching when I returned to my community. Attempting to escape the misery that was haunting me in the big city, I had resolved that the only cure to my melancholy was to reunite myself with friends and family. Although I knew life would not be any less difficult on the reserve, the thought of escape persuaded me.
My arrival was welcomed with rumors of a frightening presence stalking my community. As all rez rumors go it didn’t take long for the entire community to know the chilling account of a young father, who while enjoying the final inhales of his late night cigarette had seen a strange dark figure. As I recall hearing the figure was tall and shadowy, with eyes that glowed at the reflection of the shining moon. The sight alone had made him sick. When the figure had realized it had been noticed it vanished into the uninviting forest.
Soon after this the stories of more strange occurrences began to spread faster than a forest fire on a dry august day. Footprints on the road that could not be attributed to an animal or human were seen by many. As well as another encounter with this strange dark figure by two old men who were enjoying their night by a crackling fire. Of course the theories as to what this presence could be had started. As I was not the only one who seemed to be frightened by what was happening to our quiet community. What I had begun to hear were stories that I was somewhat familiar with, stories of spirits, and creatures that our people have been telling since time immemorial.
I had also begun to feel a chilling presence around me. An unexplainable emotion, it was telling me something was wrong. I had escaped the city only to be welcomed by what seemed like a negative energy. Though, what could I expect? My community had been through much heartache and sadness prior to the arrival of whatever this fixation was. Young men and women were taken away far too soon, as well as the unexplained disappearance of two young women from amongst our midst. The epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse seemed to blanket the community in a constant aura of sickness and despair. Things have not been well here for quite some time.
Everyone seemed to be assessing what was happening; as Halloween was slowly approaching the annual haunted hay ride was cancelled out of fear for what could be lurking in the quiet forest. With so many people on edge and frightened, myself and others began to seek the assistance of elders. Seeking their knowledge and experienced guidance on what was happening. One elder stood out in what he told me in that very apprehensive tone of voice.
“Our people have strayed. Our people have strayed away from our ways, our culture, our traditions. There’s people drinking themselves to death, there’s people depressed everywhere I look. We don’t follow our ways anymore. Around this time every year our people are suppose to do a ceremony. Were supposed to give an offering to the ones we have lost and to welcome the coming season. That’s our way. This thing, this spirit isn’t sent here to hurt us! It’s sent here to remind us, remind us to pay respect to those who have gone and to bring in the new season. That’s how our people always did it! And that’s what we need to do!”
The elder’s words rang true in my heart, however I still could not help but feel frightened of the thing that was so unexplainable to me. I had always believed in my people’s stories and traditions but had never truly experienced something like this. I was overcome with frustration trying to understand.
A few weeks had gone by and it had seemed as though the community was slowly beginning to overlook all the strange happenings. The wind was starting to blow with fresh fall air, while the days were getting shorter and the nights longer. People were getting ready for Halloween; houses were decorated with the usual ghouls and goblins. The local grocery store was stocking up on sugary sweets. Everyone had just seemed to stop thinking about it.
However there was still a lingering cold feeling inside me that was significant enough to tell me there was something amiss. I had just arrived home from a friend’s house, when I stepped out of the car. The sky was grim and dark, yet the moon provided enough radiance to be able to visualize my surroundings’. I stood outside my car for a few moments admiring the stillness, when I suddenly felt a strong wind gust. The air brushed along my body with an unsettling sensation. “CRACK” I heard in the bushes. Startled I began running to my front door which coincidently wasn’t lit up by the porch lights. I stopped at the door and gave my surroundings one more look around. My eyes widened and my skin immediately exposed itself in goose bumps. I was hoping I would never have to see this. Staring at me from the tree line was a tall dark silhouette, Eyes glaring like they could see into my soul and my innermost fears. Frozen still the only thing I could think of was the elders words.
“The spirit isn’t sent here to hurt us”
I remembered these words shut my eyes and opened the door to my house. The entire night I would lay in my bed searching for an answer as to why this spirit would make its existence known to me. Was it because I had forgotten my ways, forgotten what I was taught?
The next day I awoke digging deep into the vault I call my memory. I dug until I could find what was always in there yet I chose to keep buried. In their I found traditional stories passed on to me, Teachings of our medicines. Ceremonies I used to practice. Traditions I was once accustomed to. I always knew the teachings of my people yet at this time in my life I had become ignorant to them.
I opened the suitcase that holds my regalia and with a breath of encouragement took out my medicines; I sparked a match, lit the white sage and smudged myself and my home, filling my home with the wonderful scent of our people’s sacred medicine. With the light brown tobacco I made tobacco ties and prayed that I and my community heal. The forest green cedar I put at my door to keep negativity out and with the light sweet grass, I made braids to give to my family members in hopes that they will also remember their ways.
That same day I opened the weekly band letter delivered to all community members; it read that there would be a ceremony held at our cultural centre for those who wish to give an offering to their lost ones, and to welcome the coming season. Smiling I felt a sudden relief in my heart knowing that my community and myself were on a path of remembrance and acknowledgment of our ways.
I attended the ceremony a few days after my experience. There were people who I knew and those I didn’t know. All were there to give their loved ones who have moved on an offering. Each person brought their loved ones favourite meal so that their spirits may reminisce of their once lives. There was pasta, burgers, bannock, potatoes, steak even some Kraft Dinner. It was a good night.
Immediately after the ceremony was held I and many others could feel a sudden rush of positivity and enjoyment again. It was as though all the wrongs were made right. The sightings stopped occurring, and I could feel at ease again in my community. Fear was no longer burdening the people.
This experience will always resonate in my mind, I came back to my community full of helplessness and despair, I was immediately tested. I am glad I returned and I am glad that I saw the things I saw and heard the things I heard. Whatever it was that was that presented it self to me that dark cold night was not here to hurt me. It was here to remind me of whom I am, who my people are and that our ceremonies must always be respected.