An eleven-year old Aboriginal boy should be full of laughter, but not me, Jay. I am sad too many times. My mother, Great Bear says, "Be a happy Mi'kmaq."
My mother is Native, and my father who just died is White.
I love my mother. I also loved my father. And it is not nice when children call me "White Eyes" at school.
"You are Mi'kmaq my son. Your heart is Native, no matter what your skin speaks. Kisu'lk weswalata, our Creator took him," my mother says."
"I made a promise at your father's funeral," grandfather said. " To look after you. And become your teacher."
His words find refuge in my ears.
Getting back to school is not easy. The test of my healing now begins. Morning class is finished, time for lunch. And children's words follow me.
"No Tongue! No Tongue!" is a name with more names.
"I am Mi'kmaq," I tell them.
"Hey Jay! Not so fast!"
He runs quickly, to catch up to my swiftness.
"Why are you in such a rush, Jay?" he asks.
"Hurry up then," my lips finally speak.
Peter, my best friend is White. We are in the same grade six-class.
"Aren't you glad, No tongue, about our Social Studies class today? You know, learning about your people?"
I am Little Feather, not No Tongue. My grandfather spoke it. It made my mother smile. Grandfather is tall. And his wrinkles are like waves on Cobequid Bay's shore.
The tales he tells of Glooscap are many, as leaves in October. His love of the forest and its creatures become my prayer. I am eager to learn the ways of my ancestors.
"Long ago Mi'kmaq people were nomadic and respected each other's hunting and fishing areas. Their 'Wigwams' moved in the spring to the seacoast where fish were plenty," said grandfather.
"Native children are brought up to respect their elders," he also said.
All elders are 'Uncle' in our greeting, or 'Auntie' for the women. I learned to say these words of politeness as part of an Aboriginal family.
"Keep the circle strong," is my strength.
"Jay, I'll see you after lunch," Peter says. We always walk home together from school.
"Why," I ask at home, "must I go to that school? Many do not understand the traditions of my past."
"Names and faces can't hurt you," my mother speaks. Her skin is dark and her cheekbones like a raven, searching, hunting, and protecting.
"What's for dinner?" I ask.
"You're always hungry," mother bear speaks again. "I made some of your favorite Mi'kmaq bread, Lusginigen."
"Oh Lusgi!" I answer back, using the shorter name.
"Yes. Always hungry." An echo sounds from the corner of the room. Nan, my cousin is one year older.
She knows everything. She does everything well. Playing ball. Soccer. She has many friends. Sometimes I am jealous.
I am her opposite. My feet trip running to first base. Then my team at school was shamed. I became 'Mikchikch the Turtle' when their words created a path of sorrow to my heart.
In the woods last December, I watched Oapos hopping around eating the remnants of fallen apples trees.
I remember staring at the animal's eyes. They were trusting. His white color easily blended in with the snow. I wish to adopt his heart of bravery.
Jay was my father's name. And mother Bear wanted me to be like him. Study and read. Watch and learn. But my father worked in an office, in Truro.
He complained about being cooped up all day like a pigeon. It made my heart beat slower. His anguish pierced my skin. There was little time for father and a young son.
When he took sick, he went away never to return. And I became 'No Tongue.' If only my spirit listened more to my father. And learned the legends of my mother's people, their dances and songs.
It became easier to disappear among the weeds.
No longer to laugh and shout with happy thoughts. Yes, my White name is Jay. But inside my skin I am Mi'kmaq.
It was good that Grandfather became my trusted friend. Stories from his time at the residential school were lessons to be remembered.
"Why could you not wear your Native clothes?" I asked one day. His answer was a tear. "Never mind," his lips said. "My sorrow is not yours. You will be what you want to be."
My mother, Great Bear cut through my thoughts.
"Hurry up and eat Jay. You have to get back to school."
She always worries. My mouth is full of Lusginigen and beans. I must hurry.
"Your father's funeral was a celebration," my grandfather said. "And there is happiness in the sadness of his passing."
"What did you promise my father when he went to Niskam?" I asked. Grandfather's answer was the knowledge he taught me. I became Eagle Feather, his grandson. It was his gift to me.
My grandfather said, "The Great Spirit gave us instructions to take care of the earth and all the creatures."
The fireflies became my friends. The rabbit became my candle of trust. The birds and other animals in the forest became my family.
They also formed part of my circle.
My feet soon walked paths bathed in moonlight. And my heart was filled with songs from the past, my heritage.
I finished lunch and looked at my mother. "Your 'Lusgi' was great ma!"
"Such a beautiful boy. Isn't he Nan? And look at those teeth. I can't believe you are almost twelve years old Jay...then soon, a teenager."
My smile was like a quiver full of happiness for her. "What does it matter? I am a man now."
And my feet danced to the beat of drums made from deerskin.
Grandfather told me, " We must thank the deer for giving up his life, so we may share his hide."
Preparing for school, I watch my mother. She is like a partridge, moving quickly from one moment to another. "Wipe your face. Brush your teeth. Scoot, scoot to school."
Peter is waiting outside. Sometimes he tells me about his fears.
I will teach him some of the old ways, to make a shelter and a fire to cook and fill his belly.
My grandfather's face will be upon me with gladness. He taught me I should put away 'No Tongue.' That it was only a name to mock me. The voice of grandfather calls to me, when we are apart.
"Be a proud Mi'kmaq, young Son" he says.
And my mother's words also soothe me. "Such a beautiful boy. My baby."
I have warmth and protection. I soar above difficult things. My wings are as beautiful feathers.
Peter calls to me with impatience. "Hurry up, Jay! Or, we'll be late!"
I answer with new courage, "Eagle Feather is coming!"
My grandfather told me an Eagle Feather is an important symbol. It represents truth and carries prayers to the Great Spirit.
An Eagle flies highest and sees best.
I became Eagle Feather, a carrier of truth.
Sometimes I dream grandfather was sent to me by Glooscap. He was a God-man, warrior and leader among our people.
He built his Wigwam on top of Cape Blomidon and became the mighty guardian of Minas Basin. Glooscap taught his people to hunt and fish. The wildest animals were among his followers.
He was also strong and fearless, a wise leader and teacher. He never married, the legends say. His life was with Noogumee an adopted grandmother and a young boy named Marten.
They were his family.
In my teachings I pretend my grandfather is Glooscap. In my learning I become Marten, his son.
My grandfather brought me to many trails. In our searching I found truths. "A young boy can become a man," he said. "When you are no longer bothered by people who tease you."
My ears heard much.
"We are people of the Dawn. Mi'kmaq greet Dawn with a pipe. We hold on to the earth to make it good for everyone," grandfather said.
I learned the Circle Dance is an important part of our culture. In our Council Hall we stand sideways and move around the drums. Then we turn, place hands on shoulders and follow the leader in his deerskin lace suit of clothes.
The sounds of drums tingle in the back of my head.
Goosebumps make blood in my veins flow like a wild current.
As my steps dance, I hear voices. As if my ancestors are greeting the first Europeans.
In my evenings, I hear the song of Mother Earth that forms our bond:
"...voices are echoes from canyons
where laughter is free as the deer
and tears travel with the falling rain
when my soul is no longer in pain"
"Tahoe!" is my yell of triumph. It is said at the ending of each song. "I thank you, I acknowledge you."
Now I am a true Eagle Feather.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2006
NOTE: This is a fictionalized account of a true story. Richard and Esther were surrogate parents to a native (Mi'kmaq) boy for three years. And Jay is the model upon which this story is built. It would be nice to see this story published as a picture book one day, by an E-book publisher.
All messages for Richard or Esther can be sent directly to: firstname.lastname@example.org. They enjoy reading comments on their work. Readers are welcome to visit their website at: www.wsprog.com/rp/. Free downloads also available. They live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Many blessings on your loved ones.