Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Day in Ndilo

My friend Fred (a former Chief)
I am in Ndilo, a small community on the end of Latham Island in Yellowknife. I am working for the First Nations around Great Slave Lake, on legal issues of vital importance to them.

Yesterday, the day began with an opening prayer. Michel Paper, a 97 year old elder, gave the prayer, but first he told us how on the weekend he stepped off the bus at the KFC in downtown Yellowknife and on a whim bought a couple of lottery tickets. He scratched once, then twice, then three times and each time he had a match. He figured he had won something.

He went back to the booth where he bought the ticket and the lady checked the computer. Then she picked up the phone, dialed a number, and gave the phone to him. A woman's voice told him he had won a million dollars.

For some of us this would seem like a poor joke. What is a 97 year old going to do with all that money? But not Michel. He has a grown son and two grandchildren, and he has been worrying about them. Now he doesn't have to worry.

He said he is going to send $5,000 to Rome for the Vatican to say a mass for the ones that have passed away. He is going to pay for a really big feast in his community. Then he will know that his grandchildren will be fine. He thinks the Creator guided him to buy that ticket so he will have peace of mind.

Later in the day I was talking to my friend Fred, a former Chief. Fred has been dealing with a crisis of falling caribou populations. He was wearing a baseball cap with the name of the Bathurst Caribou Herd on it. I was admiring the cap. He said: "100,000 of them disappeared and then just showed up again."

I said: "100,000 hats? Who orders 100,000 caribou hats?"

"No," he said. "Caribou."

He laughed and said he will get me a cap.

It seems all the biologists in the north have been saying that the caribou numbers have crashed and so the government banned hunting in a huge area. Fred has been saying that they haven't crashed. Nobody has seen 100,000 caribou carcasses anywhere. Seems the Bathurst caribou herd split up, likely because of all the mines up here in the caribou's customary territory, and 100,000 went off to find a different place to live. But they didn't bother to tell the scientists.

And now they are back.

It reminds me that will all our airplanes and satellites the North is a big enough place to lose track of 100,000 pretty big animals. And that the experts are often wrong.

But Fred knew all along that they weren't really gone.

In the evening I went to the school gym in Ndilo to watch the Hand Game. Fred was there and he told me that ten years ago you couldn't drag the young people out to play. Now it was all the young men playing. It was really great fun, the drumming, the gesturing, the guessing, the gambling. In the midst of the young men I recognized Alfred, a 75 year old elder, on his knees playing the game and having a ball.

The business of our day was important political business, but what I will remember from this day in the north will be these three things: the millionaire elder, the miraculous return of the caribou and the smiling elder on his knees hiding a penny from the kids.

1 comment:

ToBlog today said...

What a wonderful story! I enjoy reading about the lighter side of Northern living. I can only imagine how Michel is feeling, and true to Dene culture he is sharing with the community his good fortune.