||Bird, MB. October 2 - 7/2007
1. Beauty on Nelson River
2. Rodney Beardy
3. Fox Lake School
This was my first visit to the small, quiet community of Bird. Here, the Fox Lake First Nation, an offshoot of the historic, 'Swampy Cree' or 'Homeguard' Cree reside. The reserve, which, officially became independent in 1947, has over 1000 members of whom about 150 inhabitants live in Bird and approximately the same number live in Gillam. The rest inhabit other communities in northern Manitoba. The CN Rail line extends eastward to Bird then turns abruptly northward on its final leg to Churchill.
I was invited by my native brother, William Dumas, now the principal of their beautiful, new, (3 years old) school. His wife, Margaret, teaches Adult Education. I would be staying with them for the week.
I arrived in Gillam to cloudy, rainy, weather. Gillam is a Manitoba Hydro town with several major dams in the vicinity, its existence primarily to provide services for employees. I was delivered to the Fox Lake School, designed both inside and out with an Aboriginal theme.
William brought me to his home for lunch where I met Kevin Brownlee, my other native, ‘brother.’ I was told he and William had gotten a bull moose the previous night along the Limestone River.
Also present were Percy and Martha Laubmann, Margaret’s parents, visiting from Pikwitonei. I had drawn Percy several years earlier.
Martha made moose burgers for lunch. An excellent cook, she passed her culinary skill downward and Margaret, in turn, taught her daughters. William is no slouch in the kitchen either. I would eat very well during my stay.
1:00pm I interterviewed John Beardy at his home. Afterwards he drove me to the Limestone Generating Station where I took photos from both sides of the river.
At 5:00pm William, Kevin and I drove to their boat launch on the Limestone River where we met Billy Beardy. We jumped into his Lund and headed down river. The Limestone River is stunning this time of year with fall colors. About 45 minutes later we beached on shore then headed carefully up and over the 30 foot steep bluff . All except Billy, who charged straight up like he was Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill. The energy of youth!
The fellows worked non-stop for 1 hour on the 800 pound animal, employing knives, a small ax and saw. I was the self-appointed photographer of the event.
Billy was brought along for his butchering skill which he acquired from his father, John. When done, Billy hung the spinal section from a pine tree for the Whiskey Jacks to enjoy.
The meat was bagged then hauled down to the boat. With mimimal sunlight and a load of 600 pounds of meat, the river had to be negotiated at a slower speed on our return.
4. Three Amigos: my bro's, Kevin Brownlee, William Dumas with me
5. William, Kevin & Billy hard at work
John Beardy picked me up in the morning and we drove to Conawapa on the Nelson River. I would accompany him down river to check his sturgeon nets. The day was spectacular, perfectly blue sky with hardly a trace of cloud and no wind.
John pointed to the 18 foot cargo canoe with the 15 hp motor, he named, 'Betsy.' I gasped! My heart rate returned to normal as I absorbed the situation. This was the, ‘Master of the Nelson River,’ John Beardy, whose expertise on this harnassed but still untamed river, is legendary in these parts.
We loaded his rifle, extra clothes, life jackets and 2 rough hewn paddles John had made himself; finally a second motor in case ‘Betsy’ proved recalcitrant that morning.
As we left the shore John stated, “I don’t like the Lund. They can’t carry as much weight. I prefer my canoe.” John likes to get out early to avoid the turbulence that often starts down river in the afternoon.
Eventually I spotted a yellow buoy which marked John’s net. He was disappointed to find only a few modest sized sturgeon and one pike that he threw back. We crossed to the south shore line on our return. I was amazed at the sheer size of the cliffs bordering the Nelson, some over 5 stories high in places. Some were pyramid shaped by the wind and rain over the centuries. John beached where a stream entered the Nelson, just one source that pours into this 644 kilometer river that extends from the end of Lake Winnipeg to the shores of the Hudson Bay.
When we returned in the early afternoon John remarked, ‘Hey partner. No one can say you were never on the Nelson River.’ I added, “That’s right. And I was out here with the best!”
I remained with Kevin who was collecting rocks from the quarry at Conawapa and headed into Gillam for lunch.
Back at Fox Lake I caught Rodney Beardy at home. At 81, Rodney is the oldest member of the community. I photographed him in the low light while his wife, Catherine, interpreted.
In the evening William drove Kevin and me out of town, stopped, then turned out the truck lights. We hopped up on the back of his truck and watched the northern lights do a tango across the sky. Such a simple but enjoyable experience in the north.
6. William & Kevin
7. Billy Beardy
8. Arduous process
How quickly the weather can change! Where yesterday was magnificent, today was completely overcast with periods of rain.
In the morning I talked about my travels to the Kindergarten class then to the class with combined grades 5 through 8.
After lunch I watched Kevin present to the adult education class in the library. It was intriguing to watch how he made fire by traditional means, using wood only. Luckily the smoke didn’t set off the fire detectors. Kevin works for the Manitoba Museum as an archeologist.
Later I talked to the same class with Margaret, William and Kevin in attendance. We have shared a great deal over the years.
That evening I briefly met the chief, George Neepin.
William cooked a great supper of breaded pickerel. I cooked a moose chili for tomorrow.
Before retiring that evening I went for a walk and again enjoyed spectacular northern lights
After a short visit to John Beardy's I returned home to help with the Thanksgiving dinner planned for the school lunch. Margaret drove me, gingerly holding the turkey, to the school. Several individuals brought food items to make the turkey dinner a festive occasion.
I met John Lundy, the Band Finance Officer. I know we will remain in touch.
Tim’s parents, Elizabeth and Donald Mazzan were present. They told me about their grand father, David Mazzan. I was certainly intriqued by the stories and hoped to meet David during my stay.
I went with Margaret and boys, Nathan, Coby, Blue Sky to Gillam. While Margaret ran her errands I walked several blocks to the Hospital/Care Home to see David Mazzan. Elizabeth and her sister arrived to interpret. David, 92, was very talkative, almost pugnacious during our visit. His lower legs had been removed just below the knees due to poor circulation. It was very unlikely I would get David outside so I photographed him in his hospital bed.
Had supper with Margaret and all at the Aurora Inn before we returned to Fox Lake.
That night I attended a Penny Sale at the Band Hall. It is a silent auction of numerous small ticket items, the proceeds going to a charitable cause in the community.
William and Kevin, returned with no luck catching moose.
9. 10. & 11. John Beardy: Master of the Nelson River
On this cold morning William, Kevin, Billy and Tammy left to again try their luck moose hunting, this time overnight.
I coaxed Gladys Dixon outside for photographs. Born in York Factory, she is now 73 years old.
At noon I drove to Gillam in Kevin’s truck. After gassing it up I dropped in at the Hospital/Care Home. Elizabeth came over but David Mazzan was asleep.
With little chance for a photograph session, Elizabeth, Donald, Tim and I drove to a restaurant where I heard more stories of David Mazzan's colorful life.
During my walk that night I spotted John Beardy returning from hunting. He had been at his cabin on the Limestone River. He says he enjoys fall season the most with the leaves changing, no insects and, of course, hunting!
I saw Rodney Beardy pushing the snow off his deck. He allowed a few more photos.
Walked along the railway tracks for awhile. I always seem to enjoy this, perhaps just to see what's around the next bend. The sun's brief appearance from behind the light, grayish clouds, lent a particular glow to the surroundings.
At suppertime William and Kevin returned hungry and cold from their unsuccessful hunting trip. William commented on the great deal of work required to prepare amd carry out a hunt.
John Henderson picked me up and drove me to the Gillam airport. John drove slowly, scanning for moose along the way.
My flight took me north to Churchill before heading back south to Winnipeg.
Thank you to William, and Margaret, (and family) for their hospitality. It was a pleasure spending the week in this friendly First Nation community tucked in the northern part of Manitoba.
Finally, thanks very much to Calm Air for the flight arrangements!
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