Attawapiskat – Day One: Spring Fever – Cathy Elliott


Towards James BayATTAWAPISKAT – Aboriginal Now – 9:30AM, I’ve been up since five am. No traffic on the way here. Last night, at around midnight, I googled the White Wolf Inn and had a little panic. I emailed Marilyn and asked, “Where is this place? Exactly?” The green arrow is Attawapiskat.

White Wolf Inn Attawapiskat

Met a couple of lovely ladies in the waiting area. They’ve started a list of things to look out for as well as some interesting tidbits:

1. Take a shower early in the morning because the pressure just disappears at breakfast time.

2. If you have any cuts, don’t shower. Cholera.

3. There was access to water at the filtration plant but somebody put up a fence around it and is charging people for it.

4. The river water (I’m assuming up river) is fine to drink.

5. Be careful of curbs. (this isn’t about Attawapiskat – the young drumming teacher broke her kneecap and it took six months for her leg to be fixed. It had unhinged and flapped around like a coat sleeve)

10:23am: Waiting for the plane to take off there’s an alarm going off in the cockpit. when they closed the door it cut the sound off. Should I worry?

I’ve never been in a Q400 before. It could be a challenge for chlostraphobics because the wings block the windows. I’m flying towards Moose Factory. Man, when I went there on the Polar Bear Express back in the eighties I thought I was Really Far North. We’ll stop there first. I’m guite possibly going farther than I’ve ever gone before. All by myself. And yet, when I talk to people I feel as if I’ve been here forever.

ps Thunder Air is in a completely different building. When I didn’t turn up, they sent a van for me. The ladies went off to Moose Factory and I got on my little plane to Attawapiskat.

pssI’m the only woman on this plane.

4:53pm: Now that I’m sitting down in my room at the Inn, I can reflect on the really nice people I’ve met today. I ran into Wapistan – Lawrence Martin at the Northern Store. He asked me about my guitar. We chatted about music, and I told him that we’d love to have him help us out at the school. He won the first Aboriginal Music Juno. The Vice Principal, Wayne, loves bluegrass, and writes. He met the love of his life through music. I met a class full of grade six’s who are bright, curious, respectful. The grade sevens weren’t in their class because somebody got into in the portable and trashed it during March Break. I’ll meet them tomorrow.

We have an extra day! We’re going to have our community show at a civilized time. Eight o’clock pm. Not only that, but some of the grown ups want to get up and sing, too. I think I’ll sing a couple of songs. But the focus will be on the songs these kids come up with. I do like the idea of the community celebrating with the kids. They’re going to open up the canteen, so it’ll be a big do. Yay! I do like a big do.

There is, as promised, about a foot of mud in places. The snow is melting so fast they have front loaders scooping it away from houses so that they don’t flood. It’s something like 16C out there right now. Tomorrow it’ll be 18 and sunny. Man, good thing I have the kids a half hour at a time. It’s going to be hard to concentrate. One of the girls mentioned that she loves to drum. She just gets sticks and practices with them. Note to DAREarts: get some drum sticks up here. Which brings me to an interesting problem. One of our students from Ogoki Post who is living in Geralton with his mom is receiving our inaugural Jay Tennant Musical Scholarship. Thing is, we can’t find a music teacher in Geralton! We’ll have to figure something out. Our recipient is a terrific singer and wants to learn guitar and write hip hop songs. So frustrating that there are kids out there who have the desire and the possibility is being thwarted by distance. We’ll figure something out though…But I digress…

I took a walk around, and my head swirled with the images of the ground I saw from far above. The ground runs in rivulets and looks like the land from a plane. From up there, the skidoo tracks on the river looked skate marks. The room I’m in is quiet at the moment. But it’s pretty much like that shelter the families are living in, the trailers all stitched together. There’s a communal kitchen and bathrooms. When people get home from work it’ll get noisy. Internet’s good. TV’s better than what I get at home. Cable! And I get to see the run down of the community happenings from the screen:

lemon sqaaresI’m having a hard time not going out there to walk around. I think I need to nap, though. Been up since five and I have to stay healthy.

Tomorrow, we begin! And, I think I gotta get me some lemon squares.

Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott will be sharing her stories and thoughts from Attawapiskat as she spends a week in Attawapiskat with DAREarts.

About Cathy: Cathy Elliott is an Actor, Writer, Visual Artist, Composer/Lyricist. Non-linear creation is my thing. Aboriginal, Acadian, Irish. In love with life. Daughter, sister, friend and playmate. I’d love to learn to speak Mi’Kmaq. I’m learning a lot about my Mi’Kmaq heritage, and I’ll be tackling the Acadian and Irish in the next twenty years.

But for now, just create. Because Art Is.

Cathy Elliott CBC Music


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Cathy Elliott is a multi-disciplined Mi’kmaq artist and a proud member of the Indian Brook, Shubenacadie Band. Her screenplay for the documentary “Fill My Hollow Bones” was narrated by her hero, Graham Green. She wrote and directed The Talking Stick, the first all-aboriginal musical in the 47-year history of the Charlottetown Festival. The finale of The Talking Stick was featured at Will and Kate’s Royal Visit to PEI in 2011. A concert version of The Talking Stick was presented at the TRC Halifax. In 2012, She was the Aboriginal Liaison for New World Theatre Project’s The Tempest in Cupids, Newfoundland. She portrayed Ariel as a Beothuk Grandmother, and translated portions of the script into Beothuk and Mi’kmaq. “Fireweeds” her Yukon musical premiered at the Red Barn Theatre and had several productions. Moving Day, her one woman musical, premiered at Talk is Free Theatre and had productions in the inaugural Next Stage Festival, Halifax and Orillia. She is now the Director of Communications for DAREarts, a children's arts organization and the head of their Aboriginal Program.