Oo-nee-kamik – The Place Outside: Under the Northern Sky

Under the Northern Sky

I am sitting here listening to the birds outside and I can hear a squirrel or chipmunk scrambling around a few feet away on a tree. The wind is sweeping up the fallen leaves outside and I can hear the scream of a chainsaw off in the distance.

My world for this time as I contemplate the here and now in this little outhouse at the cottage is very focused and simple. The Cree word for outhouse is Oo-nee-kamik, which is the literal translation meaning ‘the place outside’. There is a more vulgar word that is also commonly used pronounced Mee-see-kamik, which translates to ‘place of feces’. Elders tend to prefer Oo-nee-kamik while younger people don’t mind calling it Mee-see-kamik.

Life away from the internet, television, and smartphone gives me an entirely different perspective on my life and on the world. That old saying that no news is good news rings true today as we are dealing with a global pandemic and the rise of fascism all over the world but most importantly in the United States.  The American elections are right around the corner and the news is full of alarming and violent information 24 hours a day if you are in a place where you are connected to the internet, social media, and constant contact electronically. Here in the outhouse by the lake not much else exists except for a necessary break.

I am reminded of my early days growing up in Attawapiskat in the 1980s. Believe it or not none of the town residents had any running water, indoor plumbing, and easy access to clean drinking water. We all had an outhouse to turn to in the yard and in my home it had to service 13 people. That outhouse had legs of its own as it moved all over the yard over the years to accommodate our deposits day and night. The only modern residential units with indoor plumbing and toilets and clean water housed the nurses and teachers from away. Most of them were non-Native and if we were lucky from time to time we would be invited into the luxury of their homes for a visit and maybe a tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, and a treat. We did not really mind at the time as it was our normal and all we knew to that point. Alarmingly even today there are still many First Nation communities across Canada without access to clean and safe drinking and cooking water.

Life in the outside world is still a challenge for many of us who venture out into the cities and towns in the south. Due to the reality of systematic racism sadly many Indigenous people are still being treated as second-class citizens in the education, health, and law enforcement systems. Most people are generally very open yet there is a core of racism and bigotry still alive and well in many of our institutions in Canada. A recent terrible example of this systemic racism was in the treatment of Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous woman who is a member of Atikamekw Nation, who suffered outright abuse by medical staff in Quebec and she ended up dying in that facility.

When I venture out on the land and to the cottage I feel as though I escape from all the troubles of this world and all I have to deal with is physical work, fires by the lake, hikes along the pine trails and of course my visits to the outhouse. Out on the land I don’t have to deal much with people during this pandemic. Myself and my partner are being extremely careful and safe due to health conditions. We seldom go anywhere in public anymore and when we do, we are wearing our masks anytime we are indoors with others, staying at least 2 meters apart from people and encouraging others to take this virus seriously in order to protect everyone in our society. I am happy that many remote First Nations are locked down and people are generally not traveling all that much. Still, Covid-19 cases are starting to appear in our Native communities and that is alarming. I am sad that our schools, universities and colleges are still open to a degree and endangering students and teachers. Although there are many in these facilities wearing masks they are finding it almost impossible to practice safe social distancing. Cases are appearing in education facilities all across the country. How many people have to get sick or die before it occurs to us that conducting education on line and in fact taking a short break might make more sense.

Then again, what do I know? I am just this guy trying to get away from it all to the sanctuary of my little outhouse here in Northern Ontario where no news is good news.
www.underthenorthernsky.com