Authors: James Bartleman
NON-FICTION WORKS BY JAMES BARTLEMAN
Raisin Wine: A Boyhood in a Different Muskoka
Rollercoaster: My Hectic Years as Jean Chretien’s
Diplomatic Advisor, 1994–1998
On Six Continents: A Life in Canada’s Foreign Service, 1966–2002
Out of Muskoka
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF CANADA
Copyright © 2011 James Bartleman
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Distributed by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf Canada and colophon are trademarks.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Bartleman, James, 1939–
As long as the rivers flow / James Bartleman.
PS8603.A783A75 2011 C813′.6 C2010-904198-4
Map: Paul Dotey
To the memory of the Native youth who have taken their lives
as a result of the Indian residential school experiences of their
parents and of the parents of their parents before them
OCKED IN A NIGHTMARE
, Martha was a child again at the Indian residential school on James Bay where she had lived for ten years, from the age of six to sixteen. The priest who had summoned her to his office for “special spiritual instruction” was sexually assaulting her.
In her terrorized state, her little-girl self tried to call for help, but the words would not come. She also knew, within her dream, that she was far from home and no one in the church-run school would come to her rescue even if they heard her cries.
“Please, please don’t,” she finally managed to say, and woke up.
Lying back exhausted, Martha wondered if her anguish would ever end. Although more than three decades had passed and she was now middle-aged, with children of her own, she still remained a prisoner of the priest who had whispered that he loved her as he violated her body. She had tried to forget the trauma of those years by losing herself in the oblivion of alcohol and the ecstasy of religion, but nothing had worked.
While Martha lay awake fighting the terrors of the past, her daughter, Raven, in the next room, was emerging slowly from a restless sleep. Sensing that she was not alone, she opened her eyes to find three spectral figures gathered around her bed, silently gazing at her with expressions of yearning and loneliness so unbearably intense that she was forced to look away. She knew that they were friends from her class at school who had recently taken their own lives. Just six weeks before, she had joined them in a collective vow to die when they turned thirteen. Her birthday and those of the others had come and gone, and she was now the only one still alive.
The apparitions faded away, leaving Raven grieving for the loss of her friends, feeling guilty for having not yet carried out her part of the pact, and uncertain whether she wanted to live or die.
At that same hour, it was early morning in Quebec City. Father Lionel Antoine, the priest who had abused Martha when she was a little girl, was alone in a chapel preparing to celebrate his first mass of the day. Now in his eighties, he was still in good health, at peace with himself and happy to be back in the province of his birth. Living quietly in a home for retired priests and respected by the members of his order, he derived great comfort from participating in liturgical acts of worship, talking about the old days and sharing meals with friends who, like him, had returned from their mission posts across Canada and abroad, wishing to spend their last years at home.
Father Antoine often thought back to the decades he had spent at an Indian residential school in northern Ontario. He had done things to the little girls in his care that had not been proper, but that was in the past. He was certain God had forgiven him and that the incidents had been long forgotten by everyone concerned. What was important to remember, he told himself, was that the little girls he had called to his office in those years had loved him and had wanted him to show his affection for them in the way he had. He had become quite attached to all of them, especially the one who had been his favourite, but whose name he now found hard to remember.
KWESENS, GEEYAWAAN! IKWESENS GEEYAWAAN!
It’s a little girl! It’s a little girl!”
As the midwife held up the newborn baby for the happy mother, Mary Whiteduck, to see, the infant began to howl. That was the signal for Isaac, Mary’s husband, who had been nervously waiting outside the family cabin throughout the night, to push open the door and enter.
“A strong and healthy child,” the midwife told him. The beloved Anishinabe elder had been delivering babies at Cat Lake Indian Reserve in northern Ontario for as long as anyone could remember. “Someone to take care of you and Mary when you reach my age.”
The news travelled fast in the tiny settlement that spring morning in 1956 on the shore of Cat Lake, some one hundred and fifty miles upstream from the Albany river. Within minutes, relatives, friends and neighbours came to offer their congratulations, the men standing around outside the cabin to smoke their pipes and gossip and the women going in to drop off small gifts and admire the baby.
That evening, in honour of the addition to their community, everyone gathered around a campfire to laugh, tell stories, drink tea and eat country food—fish, game and berries harvested from the land. Several days later, a respected elder and long-standing friend of the family came to their home and, in a ceremony involving much meditation and prayer, named the baby Martha.
Four months later, the sky was filled with the cries of geese departing for the south, and Mary and Isaac prepared to join the annual fall exodus of families leaving for their traplines. Isaac fine-tuned the ancient, temperamental Johnson outboard motor, made some last-minute repairs to the family’s eighteen-foot square-stern freighter canoe, and loaded it with guns, axes, saws, traps, clothing and provisions. The couple closed the cabin where they spent their summers and said goodbye to the handful of people remaining behind, mainly the sick and elderly who would not be able to survive a hard winter on the land. They tucked their infant daughter into the beaded deerskin cradle bag of her
, the cradle-board that would serve her as baby carriage and crib for the first two years of her life, and took her on her first trip across Cat Lake and downstream to the small lake and trapping cabin that had been in Isaac’s family for generations.
Martha’s earliest years passed in a blur. Her first distinct memory was of playing on the shore in front of the family’s cabin in the bush when she was five. The wind changed direction, the sky grew black and great cracking sounds blasted out of the clouds followed by stunning flashes of light. She burst into tears and her laughing mother ran to pick her up and carry her inside just as the storm burst over their heads and giant raindrops swept across the water to soak them.
“Don’t be afraid, my daughter,” her mother said, as she removed her wet clothes and dried her off. “That was just the Thunderbird
flapping his wings and shooting lightning bolts from his eyes. He does that when he is fighting his enemy, the giant water snake. Never forget that he’s a friend of the Anishinabe people, for he provides the rain for Mother Earth and all her creatures to drink.”
To cheer up her up, she added, “Now I’m going to tell you a story about Nanabush.”
Martha immediately stopped crying, for her mother had told her tales before about the exploits of this part-human, part-spirit son of the West Wind and grandson of Gitche Manitou, and she loved them. Some of them were serious, about how he helped the Anishinabe people by creating animals and plants for them to eat, and others made her laugh. Martha preferred the comical ones and her mother launched into a long, involved tale about the time he once invited the animals to a feast, and didn’t tell them until they arrived that they were the feast!
The little girl wasn’t sure the story was all that funny, especially if you were an animal, but she laughed just the same.
In a visit some months later that would remain forever etched in her memory, friends of her parents came to their cabin at the time of the Great Moon, when the fiercest and coldest winter winds blow upon the land. After snowshoeing through the bush and across the frozen lakes from their home on a nearby trapline, they pushed open the door and entered, smiling broadly.
Hello! Hello! We’ve come to visit. We were going crazy over at our place, with our kids away at residential school and never seeing anyone from one moon to another, and we decided to come see you!”
Welcome! Welcome! What a pleasant surprise!” said Mary. “Take off your things and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll have some hot tea ready for you in a minute.”