Thursday, January 18th-Friday, January 19th, 2024

I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Burlington on Thursday night to ensure I caught the 6:00 am train on Friday morning. I woke up at 4:00 am and had a quick bowl of oatmeal before showering and heading to the Burlington Go Station to meet my travel companions. We went to Billy Bishop Airport to catch our flight on Porter Airlines to Thunder Bay. While waiting at the Thunder Bay Airport, I had the pleasure of meeting Stan Beardy. Stan has served as Chief of Muskrat Dam for a total of 15 years, Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Grand Chief for 12 years, and Ontario Regional Chief for three years. Stan spoke to us about some of the issues the Indigenous people face. His main concern was about the number of young people taking their lives. After a five-hour wait, we boarded a smaller plane that took us to Sioux Lookout and finally to our destination of Muskrat Dam. After skidding along the runway, we landed at Muskrat Dam. I was surprised by how cold and dark it was. It took my body an hour to get used to the frigid temperatures. People were waiting for us to bring us into the village. Everyone seems to drive a pickup truck in the north. There is no way a car can manage on the icy, snow-covered roads. We were driven to the community hall, where we had dinner. Members from the community and local villages were present, preparing for the funeral of Adam Beardy, a gentleman who recently passed away. Seeing how the local village members came together and shared a meal was touching. After dinner, we went to the Simpsons’ house, where we would stay for a week. I was apprehensive about sleeping in the basement with Bek, Gerry, and the mouse, but I managed just fine. The only issue was both Bek and Gerry snored. It was a symphony of snoring.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The day of Adam Beardy’s funeral was emotional, but I was honoured to take part in the service and sang Amazing Grace, Rugged Cross, and Scars in Heaven. After the funeral, I went to the grave to watch the casket lowered into the ground and helped shovel dirt onto the coffin. It was a difficult moment, but it felt like the right thing to do. It was a beautiful setting, situated on the corner of the peninsula, looking out onto the frozen lake. It was a frosty, gray day, which added to the sombre mood of the moment.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

We made our way down the snow-covered road to church. I listened to a traditional Anglican ceremony. It wasn’t easy to hear the priest as his voice was soft, and his presentation was low-key. I was invited to the front of the church to sing Amazing Grace. The audience clapped after I sang. That was unexpected. An eight-year-old boy was present for the service and had free reign of the place. He was wandering onto the pulpit, racing up and down the aisle, with no intervention from his parents. He was gently redirected to his parents by the priest on multiple occasions; his parents were sitting in the congregation watching the service and doing nothing. After church, we all returned to the Simpson house, where Andy, Gerry, Beck and I practiced our puppet shows for tomorrow’s performance. Later that day, at the community hall, Sonny Fiddler told me how much he respect what I do. He connected me to the parent council head from the school in Sachigo Lake, which was an excellent opportunity for me. Another man approached me to tell me how much he liked my voice and enjoyed my singing. It’s always lovely to be acknowledged and know you are having some impact on the community. Barb walked over to the medical center, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia. This was terrible news. She was no longer able to participate in the daily events and wouldn’t be able to perform in the puppet shows. We went to the treatment center in the afternoon and talked with William and Linda, the center’s managers. William shared his story about dealing drugs, being wanted in Manitoba by the police and how he got into taking a course in drug rehabilitation. He also spoke about how prevalent sexual abuse was in the Indigenous community. Gary and Justin, community members, dropped off a mouse trap for our mice friends. Gary shared his story about his daughter committing suicide last Christmas Eve. It was a story about how angry he was and how he went out to seek revenge. He went on a rampage in Muskrat Dam, looking for the guy who contributed to his daughter’s death. He stopped a truck that he thought carried the people responsible for his daughter’s death, but a neighbour came out of the truck instead with a cup of soup. This turned Adam away from anger and toward forgiveness and his faith. Band council member Vieta, Roy Morris’s daughter, visited us after dinner and shared stories about the community. She told us of a twelve-year-old Sunny Lake boy left at Muskrat Dam by his mother. He was left to wander the streets alone. A community member noticed this boy alone in the community. Vieta took the boy in and raised him until he was eighteen. The father of this boy didn’t want him. What I learned was that many indigenous people still need to adopt officially. If a child is given to them, they raise them. When discussing suicide, Vieta said, “It’s just normal here because it happens so often.” Leroy is Jethro’s and Ezra’s Beardy’s brother. Jethro stays with his dad. He’s often not cared for and sometimes stays with his aunt. Suicide is rampant in the youth community because kids don’t feel loved and cared for. Parents don’t have parenting skills; kids feel unloved and neglected and hopeless.

Monday, January 22, 2024

On Monday morning, January 22, 2024. I woke up at 6:30 am without power, water, lights, or toilet. It is not good when it’s – 31 C. Andy and I tried to rally some kids to play outside, but there were no takers. It was too cold! Morris Fiddler passed us on the road and picked us up. We went on the ice road to drill water to get water for cooking and the toilets. It was freezing on the lake, painfully cold. We used a giant drill to make a hole in the ice, scooped out water, and put it into jugs. After our polar ice expedition, we visited Charlotte and had tea. Charlotte was one of the teachers from the school. We discovered a Halloween haunted trail on our way back to the house. Zila and I explored it. There were skeletons fastened to a fence and a body trapped in a beaver trap. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny day, which made this discovery magical. We returned to the house and had a cup of soup and a coffee. It tasted so good after such a cold adventure.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

I visited the treatment center today and worked with lively children. One of them was autistic. We had a fantastic time performing a puppet show, singing songs, and playing with two brothers. I helped Eli, one of the brothers, with a puzzle. Later, we celebrated the birthday of a one-year-old boy named Connor with pizza and cake. Although the boys had speech impediments, we had a great time together. Unfortunately, the younger brother had multiple cavities that were filled with black filler, as it is a cheaper alternative to white. I learned that although Indigenous people receive free dental care, it is limited to only six hundred dollars a year. By the time a dentist visits their community, teeth are often pulled instead of being fixed. It was a sobering experience. We were all tired. The girls had a girls’ night, and the men enjoyed a movie night. We began a movie but had to stop it as Roy and Gab Beardy came for a visit. Roy talked about Adam, the gentleman whose funeral we attended. He lost his three children and his wife to suicide. He remarried but recently lost his wife. What a tragic story. During our conversation with Roy, we learned that Hydro can be connected to Muskrat Dam, but the government makes it too expensive for the community. It would raise food prices; bills would be high. Roy suggested that they should buy it when it’s needed. The government sure doesn’t make it easy for Indigenous people.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

I spent the morning at the treatment center and had a good time with Eli and Izrael, two brothers. They participated in a group activity that involved doing a puppet show, arts and crafts, helping with the puzzle, and playing card games. I brought some energy and humor to the puppets during the show, but I need to work on moving the puppet’s mouth when talking. When I arrived at the treatment center, I heard a young mother freaking out. It was a bit unnerving to witness. She wasn’t willing to follow the rules set out by the treatment center and ultimately decided to leave with her kids. Unfortunately, a second family also ended up leaving just one family of five at the center.

Thursday, January 24, 2024

We spent the morning at the treatment center with Eli and Azrael. I played Uno and did a craft with them. It was nice to see how they were opening up to me. They were speaking more and showing more of their personalities. We were finally able to get into the school. The school has been closed because of a flood and the lack of heat and electricity. The afternoon was spent at the school doing a puppet show, talking about leadership, singing songs and doing a craft. I reconnected with Jethro, Severn and Ezra, whom I had met on my last visit to Muskrat Dam. I also led some games in th gym. After our time at the school, I walked with Gerry to drop off a gift. Walking through Muskrat Dam is so peaceful . The only sounds you hear are the sounds of the snow crunching under your feet and the odd bird. After dinner, we had a social event in the community hall. I played the longest game of Uno with Ezra and his friend. It was a good turnout. There were both young and old, enjoying each other’s company. I played some guitar. A young boy, Lee, came up to play the guitar and sing with me. A six-year-old girl pushed Lee away, wanting a bit of the limelight. I moved Lee to the other side of me, where he strummed on my guitar. All was good. After the community event, I walked to the radio station with Zile to donate money for their local volleyball team. Three girls were running the community bingo when we entered the room. That night, I got no sleep, even after taking a sleeping pill. Maybe it was anticipating leaving or boarding the small planes back to Toronto. Either way, there was no sleep for me.

Friday, January 26th, 2024

We gathered up our belongings and made it to our charter plane. We flew to Thunder Bay and then to Toronto. When we were at the Thunder Bay Airport, we met Stan Beardy again. We also spoke to a lady who flew in from Fort Hope. She was telling us about how two teen boys, 14 and 17 years old, burned down their school. The boys thought it would be funny. This was the same school the five children from the treatment center attended. We heard about the school burning down from the mother of Eli and Izrail. This was a weird coincidence. When we arrived in Toronto, we bounced down the runway but made it home with stories to tell and many things learned. There were packs of dogs roaming the streets of Muskrat Dam. On the last day, I bought some bacon treats to feed the dogs. I was their best buddy.

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