Sunday 9 June, 2013.
Today marks our seventh full day here. For many of our team of people representing different ILPS member organizations and peoples (with representatives from indigenous peoples of the Philippines, Latin America, Switzerland, and others) this is our first experience working directly with the native peoples of this land. It has been a worthwhile experience.
It’s noon as I write this in my camp notebook. I’m sitting in the diffused blue light under the tarps tied onto A-frames made of thin pine trees chopped down during our first day. It is our camp centre and kitchen.
Clearing the location of the cabin. To the left under the blue tarps is the kitchen common area, to the right will be the cabin, this is from earlier in the week. In the photo Sara is clearing away debris.
To my left is the cauldron of soup cooking over the camp fire. To my right construction is going on for the cabin being built for Darlene Nican on her trapline. The floorboards are being set in place by her cousin Bobby who is chainsawing them roughly to size. Sara fine tunes with a handsaw and Bridge (an indigenous woman from the Philippines) hammers 5 inch nails into place. Behind me down a slight hill is the lake where we draw all our water from.
The blackflies circle, the mosquitoes buzz. I rub at the mini-mountain range of bites at the back of my ears. We’ve been lucky though, the bugs haven’t been so bad relatively speaking.
In between the sound of hammers and saws it is quiet. Well no, I guess not really, I only say that as a city boy. The sound of wind rustles the leaves and branches of the spindly northern Ontario trees, the birds chirp, the bugs make their assorted noises, a nearby beaver slaps its tail now and then, and of course there’s all of us.
The cabin build site lies in second growth forest. Some decades back this land was clear cut without the permission of (or compensation provided to) the Necan family. That this doesn’t happen again is part of the reason Darlene is going back to live on her land. The new growth is still dense though, in the way of northern forests. For a guy with more experience in the tropics it was a bit of a surprise. I’m used to much more lush foliage.
Our week here has greatly transformed this small bit of land around our site. When our first team members arrived nine days ago there was only forest. Today we can see the results of our labour. This is an obvious human settlement. Many trees have been felled and uprooted. The earth has been flattened and cleared of debris. Paths criss-cross the three major living areas: the 25 foot long set of A-frame tarp enclosures that make up our kitchen and common area, the tent cluster, and lake front. There are also the two outhouses, the supply & materials area, some scattered tents, and of course the construction site. The base of the cabin is complete and tomorrow we’ll start putting up walls.
In that time we have also widened the 10+ km dirt road that leads out of the bush (and filled in the deep holes carved out by rainwater and vehicles), cut out a 300+ metre shortcut right through the forest, as well as started work on a dock.
I’ve enjoyed the labour. We all have I think. The cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and sore muscles don’t seem like too high a price to pay for an honest days work—one whose results you can see with you own eyes, one whose product you can be proud of having helped produce.
“Helped” because of course this is a team effort. No one person here can claim sole responsibility, yet all, including those who remain in camp to provide for meals or comfort, have shared ownership of the result. Of course we owe a great debt to the local peoples (especially Darlene, Bobby, Henry, and Kenny) for all their expertise and help.
Darlene tries to limit us to five hours of labour a day. She is aware that our lives in the city have not prepared us for life in the bush. She admits to being a little surprised that for the most part we are adjusting well.
The evenings usually finds us by the campfire next to the lake sharing stories, songs, and discussing how the Seven Grandfather teachings have an effect on our own lives. A couple nights this week we have even been blessed to witness the aurora borealis. I never thought we’d be able to see it over our heads at this distance north.
The nights have been cold, especially the first two (which shocked many team members despite being prepared for it), but like the construction this has been steadily improving.
There have been snags, however. Delivery delays cost us two or three days (due to a mix up by the hardware store), and there have been equipment and labour shortages. Lack of funds meant not being able to hire enough labourers or buy time saving devices. There are discussions of extending the trip if all our schedules can be made to fit in order to see it to it’s end.
There is also the future to think about as well. When this project is complete there will be a home built, but with the barest of necessities. There remains no electricity, running water, or phone/cell/internet service. And this is the first of more homes to be built on this land. Much work remains to be done.
So yes, it’s been one week here. The team has been holding up well. As Laura Lepper told me when I asked her about her thoughts on the week, one thing she is proud of is the work being done to keep the social dynamic strong and healthy. Yes the physical work is hard, she says, but that has an ending. The spiritual work is constant.
For me, this work reminds me of doing exposure work in the Philippines, of working with the common people (urban poor, peasants, and indigenous peoples). In that work one realizes that to take time to really involve yourself in people’s day to day lives, to listen and put one’s personal pride and sense of privilege aside, there is much that can be learned.
One week in. At least one week to go. It has been a beautiful experience thus far.
- Visit us on FB: https://www.facebook.com/IlpsIndigenousCommissionCabinBuild
- Read a feature story on the project in The Dryden Observer: http://thedrydenobserver.ca/2013/06/feature-those-left-behind-toronto-activists-join-savant-lake-residents-excluded-from-saugeen-first-nation-for-30-years/