The Graduation Trip – Under the Northern Sky

Northern Lights, Polar Bears, and Food... RAW:Churchill
Northern Lights, Polar Bears, and Food...

THUNDER BAY – LIVING – Elementary school graduating classes are heading out on special trips all over the country. I remember what a big deal that tour was for myself and my classmates as we visited Toronto and Niagara Falls. Up to that point I had not ventured out much into the outside world and most of my experience had to do with my home remote First Nation of Attawapiskat.

Suddenly, as part of a reward for sticking with school, I found myself being flown out of the north and then being driven in a bus along major southern highways. It was so exciting to finally be experiencing first hand what I had seen on television as the modern, southern world. Just the fact that I could leave my remote home and move freely along a road to places far away was amazing to me.
Every stop at a place on the highway was exciting as I could order burgers, fries, milk shakes and sodas. Once we hit the city, I was shocked by how big it was. Myself and my friends had sore necks from straining to look up at the skyscrapers in downtown Toronto. Everything was so fast and busy. One thing that surprised me was that people on the streets did not look into each other’s eyes. There was little or no acknowledgement of anyone meeting each other on the sidewalks, in the restaurants or the subway system. It was as though people were in a trance.
The city was overwhelming for my classmates and I. Our school partnered with another school in the city in Mississauga and we stayed with families there in their own homes. We were surrounded by everything and anything anyone could want. The families we met were from a variety of backgrounds and we got exposed to whole new variety of cultures including Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Caribbean. Everything seemed hectic in the city and that made me feel very nervous. There were all kinds of rules to follow in simply crossing a street, waiting for lights to change, ordering a meal in a restaurant and in living in our assigned homes. There was a stress to all this abundance that made me feel anxious and a little helpless if not frightened.
Anything I could imagine that I could want was in the cities I visited. The Eaton centre was full of shops that housed all my dream fashions in clothes, hats and shoes. The electronic stores were full of gadgets that I yearned for. Restaurants were everywhere and there were so many different types of food that were available that I had never known about.

The reality that made me feel uncomfortable was that it all had to do with money. If you had money in this outside world and you were smart, successful and capable then everything was fine. However, if you ran out of money or if you could not fit in, then it could be that your fate would be that of the many homeless people I saw begging for money on the streets. In the middle of all of this luxury, riches and choice, I saw many Native people destitute and poor on the street merely trying to survive. None of that made sense to me and it scared me. I discovered on my school trip that this magical world of wealth and luxury was not available to everyone. It made me wonder if I would ever want to actually live in this type of world.

Even though things were dysfunctional and difficult back on my tiny, remote First Nation I never felt as though I was on my own. There were family and friends all around me and if times were hard we always knew that we could live from the land and have a meal of goose, moose and fish. Everything we needed to survive we had in the land around where we lived. If there was no money we still managed to live.

I have learned through education, the assistance of friends and family that it is possible to live in the outside world and still have a connection to the land. I have discovered how to survive and deal with all of the demands in the fast and complex outside world. Happily, I also learned how to live a sober life and avoid the traps of alcoholism and drug addiction. Without my sobriety I would never have been able to live a good life in the outside world.

Over the past two decades I have travelled much of the world, seen amazing cities and sites and enjoyed many different cultures. I have discovered that most of the world’s wealth and power rests in the hands of about 80 very wealthy people. More than half of the world population lives in terrible conditions with little shelter, not enough good food, a lack of clean water and under the rule of tyrannical governments. That uneasy sense that I felt on my graduation trip so many years ago was in fact an epiphany. That fact haunts me.

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Under The Northern Sky is the title of a popular Aboriginal news column written by First Nation writer, Xavier Kataquapit, who is originally from Attawapiskat Ontario on the James Bay coast. He has been writing the column since 1997 and it is is published regularly in newspapers across Canada. In addition to working as a First Nation columnist, his writing has been featured on various Canadian radio broadcast programs. Xavier writes about his experiences as a First Nation Cree person. He has provided much insight into the James Bay Cree in regards to his people’s culture and traditions. As a Cree writer, his stories tell of the people on the land in the area of Attawapiskat First Nation were he was born and raised.