Power to the People – Under the Northern Sky

Man with Northern Lights reflection
Man with Northern Lights reflection - ImageBank.com

ATTAWAPISKAT – This weekend I was working on a little bit of an electrical problem as one of my lights was not working and it ended up being a connection. While I was trying to figure out this little problem I thought back in time and recalled all the interesting electricians I had met over the years. One fellow came to mind immediately, Jimmy Bigelow of Iroquois Falls.

The first time I really left my home First Nation of Attawapiskat I lived in Iroquois Falls where I was welcomed by my friend Mike and Emily and their family, friends and neighbours. It was not easy venturing out into the greater world but people like Jimmy and Helen Bigelow who lived down the street made it much better for me to adapt.

Jimmy was an electrician with many years experience and I watched him a few times source out electrical problems and come up with solutions in no time at all. He was a very kind man and often did work for neighbours for free or very little cost just to help out. I recall one time when he had been searching for an electrical shorting problem and he ended up getting a shock. However, he had to tell me he was being shocked as I could not tell by his expression at all. He had come into electrical shocking situations so many times over the years that he had developed a sort of immunity to it and very tough leather-like skin on his hands. As he located the short in the connection he smiled at me and let me know he was being shocked. A normal person would have been yelling and jumping around but not Jimmy and he knew that would make me laugh in amazement.

Sadly, Jimmy passed this last winter after being ill for some time. D’Iberville Avenue in Iroquois Falls will never be the same without Jimmy sitting out front welcoming neighbours onto his porch. There was always action around Jimmy’s house as his children Eddie, David and Sherri often visited and in particular for hunting and fishing get to gathers. Being Irish, Jimmy mixed well with his Irish and French Canadian neighbours and was always ready to lend a hand with anything when called upon.

I know he was devastated when his youngest child Jamie passed away years ago but his family, friends and neighbours all pitched in to give support to him and Helen. Some of my favourite memories of those early days in Iroquois Falls are all about Jimmy and Helen joining their neighbours Real Souckey and his wife Louisette as they sang the night away with country tunes by Tammy Wynette, George  Jones and Patsy Cline.

Jimmy was a great electrician and a good friend and working buddy to another town friend Don Paquette who made a special effort to make me feel at home in Iroquois Falls. He and Jimmy had lots of stories to share and they teased each other relentlessly. For some reason, I have been close to electricians all my life. Johnny Mercier of Whitney in Timmins, his son Jamie Mercier and his grandsons Dylan and Kyle are good friends who are all electricians. My good friend Donald Elliott is an electrical engineer and is really an expert in his field having to do with power production.

In my early life as a kid back in Attawapiskat I was in awe of my uncle John Paulmartin, who worked as a supervisor of the electric diesel generating station. He was very important in my eyes as he worked with Ontario Hydro which provided the light and power for our little community.  John had picked up the tricks of the trade over many years and was respected for his electrical work in the community. I was his assistant one summer installing electrical power in the family laundromat business. He was a quiet man and very patient so that resulted in his passing along a lot of knowledge to me. John made work easy and fun because he was so kind and funny. He was also very respected for being one of the best traditional hunters and trappers in the community.

Once in a while, I have to deal with some little electrical issue and when I do all those great electrical friends of mine come to mind. In my case, they surely were all about that old saying, “Power To The People”.

Xavier Kataquapit


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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.