Strange Looking White Folks with Handbills

Written by Brant Olson

Topics: Coal

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Here’s a story recounting an experience earlier in the Suummer from Carmelle, one of the group at Grassy Narrows. Love that Walleye!

Thursday, June 8 we spent preparing a feast of traditional foods open to all Grassy Narrows residents. Earlier in the week a bunch of us flyered door-to-door on the reserve to promote the event. The idea was a friendly meet-and-greet-our-neighbours, which we jokingly (amongst ourselves) described as “come meet the hippies night”. Judy, a Clan Mother and community activist, drove around Sasha and I and her niece (who was flyering for the upcoming youth gathering at the blockade site). She posed as a makeshift tour guide on my first trip into the reserve, pointing out what is considered the ‘ghetto’ in Grassy. Here, families of five or more live in one or two bedroom bungalows, some missing doors and others with broken windows.

All the homes we visited were made from cheap particleboard that is apparently toxic, except the chief’s log cabin which is by comparison a mansion. Meanwhile Weyerhaeuser extracts virgin hardwood forests from Grassy Narrows territory to build beautiful homes throughout North America. However, a grassroots effort to reclaim some wood and build their own log cabins with a community run lathe is currently underway.

Judy also pointed out Seskatcheway Anishinabe School, where half the teachers are brought in from outside in an effort to improve failure rates in subjects like math. However, she says lots of these teachers have just finished teachers’ college. They only stay for a year to get some practice so they can then snag a job back in the big city. Those are just some of the reasons why Judy has chosen to home-school her five children.

The Feast

Many community members were enthusiastic about the prospect of free supper, while others were more apprehensive about opening the door to strange looking white folks with handbills. Preliminary estimates of turnout were low. But after many people assured us they would make it out for some fish fry, we had to catch provisions for about 65 hungry people. Also on the menu was banok, a local favourite. Steve taught us how to cook it properly over an open fire with real lard, not eggs. Here’s how:

1. Mix in some tenderflake with white flour and a couple tbsp of baking powder in a deep pan or bowl.
2. Make an outer wall with the flour.
3. Pour warm water with a handful of salt into the center of the flour.
4. Slowly mix in flour with a fork.
5. Knead dough.
6. Rip into bun-size pieces and lay out on another plate.
7. Powder pan with flour for baking.
8. Put two or three pieces of dough in pan for baking.
9. Lean pan against a rock next to some hot coals.
10. When topside starts to brown, flip over.
11. Wait till both sides are brown and the middle is cooked then remove from fire.

The last two steps sound easier than they are. Steve joked that if the banok turned out bad, he could just say it was our doing. But in reality, we couldn’t make banok that tasty. After attempting to bake a batch at a later date, I realized it’s a process that takes a great deal of practice and patience to master.

It was touching to see such a turnout at the blockade site. But unfortunate some people had to eat from cups due to the lack of plates and cutlery. All the fried Walleye was devoured, with some smoked Northern Pike, Sucker and White Fish left over for people to take home. Fresh fish caught right here in the English River enticed even the taste buds of the vegetarians amongst us.

I think inviting everyone out into woods and off of the confinement of the reservation is a great community builder. The kids were happy to see some new faces and eager to ask us, “Who are you?” It’s wonderful the blockade is a safe alcohol and drug free space for kids to run around and explore. The adults were a little more reserved. That meant more initiating on our part, but we were a bit timid ourselves. I hope to get more chances to meet and build relationships with members of this community in the coming weeks.

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