• Eugene Stickland

At The Feast

Last week, Dr. Linda Many Guns and the good people from the National Centre for Collaboration for Indigenous Education descended upon us and instead of having our usual working session, we were treated to a feast.

The food, prepared and served by volunteers, was all, as we say, pre-contact. By contact, we mean contact with European culture. Depending on whom you talk to, contact with European culture has not exactly been beneficial to First Nations Cultures.

It's an ongoing saga that continues to play out on a daily basis. Events in BC and around the country are forcing the question, do we really want reconciliation? Is Canadian society prepared to embrace it, or is it just so many empty words?

Certainly, eating a pre-contact meal consisting of buffalo and corn stew, carrot salad, blueberry cake with maple syrup and blueberry and mint tea gives one occasion to reflect back to a simpler time than the one we find ourselves in today. In many ways, for many reasons, it was one of the finest meals I have ever had.

You might think that with a feast going on and all, I might have had the night off, but not really. I took the time to seek out the girl who wrote the piece I included in my last post. I called her over to my table and she approached warily.

I said, "I just wanted to thank you for the piece you wrote last week." Maybe she was waiting for me to add a "but" or "however" but there was no qualification coming for me.

In fact, I continued, "I teach creative writing at universities and the piece you wrote last week is at least as good as I have ever seen, if not better."

Bear in mind, I was saying this to a young teenage girl. But I really meant it. And I thanked her for writing it and then she went back to her table and sat down.

I was sitting beside Vanessa Wenzel, our videographer, when this exchange went down. We both watched as the girl returned to her seat with what could only be called an enigmatic look on her face.

"That," I said to Vanessa, "is the look of a person who has been given a compliment, but has no experience of it, or frame of reference for it."

Through the four pieces I have worked on with these girls, I remember the things they have written for me, and the constant theme that runs though all of it of the horrible things people say to these girls. They get called fat, ugly, worthless, lazy stupid and more. Routinely.

Such horrible, damaging things to say to a little girl, or anyone else for that matter, but that is their experience of living in this culture.

To try, at least, to balance all that hate and stupidity with a much-deserved compliment seems like a small but necessary thing to do, and was probably the best thing I did all night.

We're back to work this week as we get closer to finalizing our performance piece, The Road. I know, in my heart, that once again I will be dazzled by these wonderful young women and the stories they share with me.

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