ATTAWAPISKAT – It’s 1987 during the first days of spring, I am out with my friends for a Sunday afternoon of running around the community. There is no internet to keep us at home and no video games to keep us occupied. We have exhausted every television program we can watch on the three channels that are available to us.
Our first task is to gather our group of friends. We focus ourselves on what we know to each other as Kataquapit road in the centre of town where our grandparents Janie and James Kataquapit once lived. Our uncles Alex, Gabriel, Leo and George live within a few houses from each other along this road. On an adjacent street just a few steps away is uncle Thomas whose son Henry has a house nearby. A street further on is where my home sits. At this point in our young lives this is our world.
Here we gather together relations from 8 to 12 years of age including my uncle Thomasís grandkids Thomas, Jooshish and Ahtwen, Alexís grandkids Joey, Loli and Gary; Georgeís grandkids Scotty, Puckapuck, Travis, Charlie and Weebop, as well as myself Sapiyeh and my brothers Joojep and Paul. We speak Cree and run around on the street without much direction as our entire world revolves around these streets and trails.
The oldest boy Jooshish becomes our leader and we organize ourselves into a scouting party of sorts. We are ordered to search for treasures from the past winter. We all know that people lose many things throughout the winter so we scout out the best places first and work our way around the community.
We start our route with the local hockey rink where the surface has receded into an ugly patchwork of melted ice, pools of water and frozen soil and gravel. This is where we gather our tools for the day. We find broken hockey sticks that we use for digging, poking and prodding. We scout around the outside of the rink and find a variety of lost pucks. Its a game of finders keepers – losers weepers.
Whoever finds it, keeps it, so we all eagerly search for these treasures.
We continue our trek to JR Nakogee school and hunt first around the rear door and then the main front three door entrance where the previous winter drew bingo players, weddings guests and dance attendees. We knew from stories around the community that people had lost coins, bills and other items as they stood out in the snow during these events. A few of us end up with some coins that prove the rumours of treasure and some of us uncover a few unopened lottery tab tickets. We are lucky pirates this day for sure.
Our next stop is to climb up to the rise where the old water treatment plant stands and then across old uncle Alexís yard towards the community hall where busy dances had been held over winter. The front and rear entrances proved to be a gold mine for us as we unearthed more lost money mostly in coins. Strangely there were also interesting finds of pieces of cards, notes, small toys and cigarette lighters. I take a break from my pirate treasure hunt as my home is just across the street and I take the opportunity for a quick gulp of hot tea mixed with plenty of canned milk and sugar. My mom reminds me to keep an eye on my two younger brothers and then I head back out into the treasure hunt adventure.
We continue on our walk and head towards the steeple of the Catholic Church. On our way, we sift through the ditches on the roadside, scouring the water and banks for more loot. We stop at the local hospital and search around the main entrance for anything interesting but find mostly cigarette butts and attention from too many adults who just donít seem to remember they were pirates in search of treasure once on these roads.
We get to the church and make our way to the main front entrance but sadly find nothing of interest, except for old flyers advertising the services from the previous months. We move on with stars in our eyes with hope to the goldmine we had been looking forward to at the main entrance to the Northern Store. The south facing entrance has almost all the snow around it melted and it is easy to dig through the thin layers to search for lost treasures. We find enough coins to turn our hunt into a shopping spree for chips, pop and candy later on.
As we chomp away on the spoils of our hunt we remember the legendary time my younger brother Joojep found a $100 dollar bill. Now that was one heck of a find but he had to return it to our cousin who had reported it lost. Still it could have been a windfall and we know that some day another $100. bill will turn up. That thought sits well with us as we savour our bounty for this day.
Now, as I sit at my laptop so many years later I recall these active and magical days of my childhood back in Attawapiskat. It saddens me that the young people today are not out there running around their local streets and trails using their imaginations to play and perform. We are all too easily held to the power of television, cable tv, satellite channels, internet and video games.
We are inside way too much and sitting for hours letting our fingers wander rather than our legs and imaginations.