On Wednesday a man called ‘Shoon’ came by our campsite. He is on the Tribal Council of Grassy Narrows, and is also one of the trappers involved in the groundbreaking lawsuit against the province and Abitibi Consolidated. The lawsuit has to do with the fact that the clear cutting in this area infringes upon his and the communities ability to maintain hunting and like activities on traditional trap lines. Traditional subsistence rights are guaranteed under Treaty 3, a document of more than a hundred years old.
Shoon came by and told us that a member of the community had died. He asked that we come into town the next day and help with preparations for the funeral. The ‘men’ were to dig the grave, and the ‘women’ were to help prepare the meal.
When I was dropped off at the graveyard, there was a group of men there, ranging in age from mid twenties to… well, old. I had been very worried about being involved in such a solemn and ceremonial affair. But when we there, around the grave sight, it became evident very quickly that it was just a bunch of guys, eating sandwiches and drinking pop, telling jokes and talking about sports – guys digging a hole. As the only outsider, needless to say there were more than a few jokes at my expense, not all necessarily in good taste, but definitely in good fun.
At some point, most of the guys started heading to the trucks parked at the road. “Alex come on,” I heard one of the guys say. So I went. And so, I was to become a pallbearer at Emile Fontaine’s funeral. “Hunter, Trapper, Guide, and Fisherman” said the grave marker that Naila painted.
I was involved in the ceremony, and in the emotional scenarios that inevitably surround a funeral. Somehow though, it wasn’t the negative experience that one might expect from being involved in a stranger’s funeral in a community that is not one’s own. The best way I can explain is to paraphrase something Shoon’s wife, Lorna said to me. She said that there are many things that bring a community together, death being one of the most poignant among them. Being involved in Emile Fontaine’s funeral not only gave me the opportunity to connect with the group of guys with whom I was digging, which it definitely did, but it made me feel like I had an actual stake in the community beyond the activist activities that we are involved in, and my responsibilities as a Canadian. Helping to bury Emile Fontaine, “Hunter, Trapper, Guide, and Fisherman,” helped to make me feel like the community really wants us here, like there might be something genuine that we can do, rather than just being ‘activists’.
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