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This is not the first time that Saskatchewan has been ravaged by a major pandemic.

The so-called Spanish Flu, now thought to be a derivative of H1N1, set the entire world on fire in 1918-1919. It was a killer, with a virus that linked to a bacteria, leading to influenza infection then bacterial pneumonia, then death.

The death rates were high: in Canada, about 55,000 Canadians died. In Saskatchewan, its grim death toll by the end of 1918 was nearly 4000 people, and it continued to stalk rural, remote and northern regions until about 1922. The death toll likely reached well over over 5000 people, but records are patchy and we’ll never know for sure. What is known is that the impact on Saskatchewan’s First Nations population was worse, and the disease and Saskatchewan’s efforts to combat it took over everyone’s life in the fall of 1918.

The flu came to Canada with the soldiers, those returning home from the WWI war front, but in reality, it raced ahead of them. The first recorded death from the Spanish Flu was Robert Callander, a drayman in Regina who was sick for a week before succumbing.

What made the Spanish Flu so frightening was its rapid transmission, and its targets. It killed the healthiest working people — soldiers, farmers, teachers — in the prime of their working lives. Its death rate were described as a ‘W’: those aged 0-5 were highly susceptible, ages 5-20 less so, ages 20-50 were very susceptible, then 50-65 less so and another surge in deaths for the elderly population.

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Calgary Daily Herald October 7, 1918

It also came in three waves. The first wave came in the spring of 1918 and was dubbed the ‘three day fever,’ since people were very sick for just a few days, then mostly recovered. This wave was less noticeable in Canada when compared to other regular grippes, flu bugs and the regular items of a Canadian winter. It was the fall 1918 surge that was the killer, while spring 1919 saw another resurgence, but less severe.

In Biggar, Saskatchewan, we have a more limited view of the fall of 1918. While our local newspaper, the Biggar Independent was then (and remains now) in operation, we have few copies of newspapers from that killer fall — likely because people destroyed newspapers rather than risk them being contaminated with the killer virus. We have a newspaper from September 5, 1918, then nothing until November 21st 1918 (side note: they were five cents per copy!)

September 5th saw no mention of the virus or the disruption to come. A circus was coming to town on September 11th, promising local kids and adults alike some smiles and delights.

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Biggar Independent, September 5, 1918

But what happened after, throughout the rest of September and October, is unclear. What we do know is that we had local disruption, much the same as we are having now in 2020 with Covid-19. Schools, the pool halls and bars, the Biggar Majestic Theatre, and all churches were closed. And, people died.

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Biggar Independent November 21, 1918

The article actually lists seven deaths, including an infant and Percy Talbot from Oban region, who died in Calgary — and that’s just from the past week. In all, it could be estimated that as many as fifty people from Biggar and surrounding regions died throughout October and November of the scourge year.

One of the things that the Town of Biggar had to fund was an ’emergency hospital’. In the November 21st copy of the Biggar Independent, the town’s financial report listed over $60 put toward the emergency hospital.

Ernie Hoppe of Biggar said that his mother told him stories of the 1918 epidemic. Their home, 14 miles north and west of town, was “where the sick came for help,” and it’s probable that it became a rural triage and emergency space for those stricken with the awful virus. “Many people died in their home,” he added. I have yet to discover where the town emergency hospital was located, but if you know, reach out.

But by November 21st, things were starting to ease back. The ‘ban’ on gathering had been lifted, and the Biggar Majestic Theatre, along with churches and the pool room, could once more reopen.

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“Theatre Thoroughly Disinfected” Biggar Independent November 21, 1918

By November 28th, there was a town annual meeting. One of the things discussed: “Those who were present however helped along the urgent need for a hospital one step by appointing S. H. Curran J. T. James and S. E. Shaw as a committee from the town to interview the Council of the Rural Municipality of Biggar with a view to building a Union Hospi­tal in Biggar next year and of continuing the operation of the present emergency hospital until a more permanent building can be arranged for.” [Biggar Independent, “Citizens Show Lack of Interest”, November 28, 1918].

The churches came back: the Methodist church resumed services on November 24th, with St. Paul’s Anglican — the same building we see today — resuming morning and evening services, choir practice, and Sunday School on December 1st.

It took longer to reopen the schools. School terms were more fluid at the time, and could shift according to local need, particularly those in rural areas. It was a disconcerting prospect for many, to consider not only the schools not reopening, but the absence of Christmas concerts and other timely entertainment.

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Biggar Independent November 28, 1918

But even as life started to return to normal and people moved more freely in the town, the flu and its aftereffects were still to be seen.

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Biggar Independent November 28, 1918

With only patchy newspaper records — we have no extant papers from December of 1918 from the Biggar Independent — the record ends there. But those interested in reading for themselves, and following the stories told through newspapers should find their way to the Saskatchewan Historical Newspapers Online and the Google Newspaper Archive.

Whether you’ll be relieved, or horrified to know that we’ve been here before, is entirely up to you.

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In August of 2017, I was contacted via email by a researcher from the United States, Hilary Ament. She was on contract with the producers and production crew of the movie First Mana biopic of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Based on a biography written by James R. Hansen, the movie focuses less on the moon landing and more on Armstrong’s life and relationships and family. Armstrong is portrayed by Hollywood megastar Ryan Gosling, and his wife Janet by the cool beautiful Claire Foy.

One of the storylines, a moment which created a particular sad trajectory in the Armstrong family, was learning that their young daughter Karen had brain cancer. Ever the scientist, Armstrong worked feverishly to find a cure. The movie was set to include a scene where Karen would undergo treatment using the cobalt-60 machine, known as the cobalt ‘bomb.’ Originally developed and designed in Canada, the cobalt machine was the first deep-seated cancer radiation technology designed specifically for clinical application.

Hilary Ament’s email said: “the set designers are building a machine similar to this model, but are having a little bit of trouble understanding the order of the procedure itself, showing what should be on the control panel and dials, and maybe any notes doctors would take.”

Hilary found me via the University of Saskatchewan and the Western Development Museum, where the original Saskatchewan-built cobalt-60 machine is on display. Searching desperately for technical insight, she came to me.

I had been working intermittently on a biography of Saskatchewan physicist Sylvia Fedoruk (of ball, curling, and Lieutenant Governor fame) who had been a graduate student working on the original cobalt bomb project. Syl’s files, along with those of Harold Johns at the University of Saskatchewan Archives and Special Collections, were a treasure trove of information.

I sent a short description, taken from my in-progress manuscript on Sylvia Fedoruk, about cobalt-60 and how radiation works to fight cancer. I also sent along a description of the treatment room constructed at the University of Saskatchewan which housed the original cobalt-60 unit, along with schematics. The original room featured a ten inch thick glass window, where technicians would monitor the patient during radiation.

As well, I passed along descriptions of the way treatment technicians would design special padding or apparatus to hold a patient in place. For a young child like Karen, holding still was paramount, and the technicians would have worked with both Karen and her parents to make the little girl comfortable and at ease.

Of course, Karen would have been given multiple radiation doses, not just one, but a major Hollywood movie has time constraints. All of this work would go into just one scene.

Hilary Ament replied, “This is beyond what we had hoped for. The set designers are very happy with the research that we’ve collected, and are on a solid track now. Between reading the articles you sent, diagrams, and video we’ve been able to get a pretty good idea of how these operated! The scene is fairly short, so they’re thinking they have enough to go on…”

I was thrilled to help, even in this small way for a tiny scene. So of course when First Man hit our little Majestic Theatre in Biggar in the fall of 2018, I was in the audience, bright eyed and ready to see what it all looked like.

There’s nothing like watching a movie in a small, community-owned theatre in rural Saskatchewan. The Majestic is our local site for all things arts. Built in 1909 and rescued from oblivion, it hosts music festivals, live concerts, plays, dance festivals, and musicals, as well as movies on Friday and Saturday night, along with the popular Sunday afternoon matinee. Run by volunteers, it’s one of the focal points and gathering spaces for our community.

In the audience, scattered alongside and all around me, munching popcorn and slurping drinks, were friends, neighbors, and relatives. In the city, a movie experience is rather impersonal. Sure, the audience laughs together in all the right places, but we don’t necessarily know our neighbors or the ones who sold us the ticket or handed us the popcorn or took a quick bathroom break in the stall beside me before the opening credits.

In a small community theatre, the vibe is completely different. We don’t need a lot of previews or games on the screen. We’re busy chatting: do you have enough stuff for the raffle table at the hockey game? Are you hauling wheat this week? Can you curl for me next Wednesday night? Once a movie starts, you recognize the different audience laughs — brother in law Ryan, good friend Tina. We count how many people are there and celebrate a movie that’s going to make a profit. And lots of us have learned to clean up behind ourselves, taking garbage out on our way back through the lobby.

The night I went to see First Man, there were plenty of friends and relatives in the audience, many of whom knew about my encounter with Hollywood, and had almost as much anticipation shivering through them as I did. We could experience it together.

The cobalt-60 scene comes early in the movie, and I sat forward to watch every detail as it shimmered on screen. With Karen’s neck supported, her head exposed and her body gently strapped in place, she looked just as I had imagined. The Eldorado-style machine looked like a miniature version of the space-age rockets Armstrong was working on. The treatment room had no windows, with thick concrete walls lined with lead. Neil and his wife Janet watch from behind the thick glass window helplessly, overcome with hope that the treatment would succeed.

It was an amazing moment as a researcher. I had helped to shape the way a movie looked, the way the actors moved, the set design, and the whole feel of the scene. I was jubilant.

But Hollywood has a way of surprising you. My work, offered to Hilary Ament and to Universal Studios, had not just shaped the visuals. It had actually changed the script in the movie. My mouth dropped in shock at the next scene. In it, Neil Armstrong is on the telephone to the doctors at the hospital. He asks [and this is my memory, not a direct quote], Did you call Dr. Johns? Dr. Harold Johns? The doctor in Saskatchewan who invented the treatment? 

I couldn’t help it. Even though this is a scene of great pathos and sadness, learning that the much-hoped-for treatment didn’t work on his daughter, I was lifted right out of my seat, cheering. My poor husband was hushing and pulling me down, but others were just as jubilant: hey, they said Saskatchewan! Tears leaked out, both for the memory of a little girl full of sunshine whose life was cut short by cancer, and by my own personal victory: I had had an influence on a Hollywood movie script. A whole scene, then another, shaped by my research and insight. And Saskatchewan got a mention.

First Man is up for four Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards, one of which is production design. I’ll be watching with delight, hoping for a win. After all, I do have a little bit of skin in this game.

I wish I could say that I found my name in the credits. Several of my friends and neighbors, and my brother and sister-in-law, went close to the screen (none of us are youthful) to try and find my name. Nothing. Nonetheless, I have the paper trail and the emails, and the movie scenes themselves to back up my story. Hollywood, if you’re listening, come again. Saskatchewan has a few more hidden stories for you. But next time, I’d like to be in the credits, please.

And yes, I’ll be watching it at The Majestic.

fedoruk.1

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In the fall of 2016, I was approached by C.P. Champion, editor of The Dorchester Review, to join a chorus of other writers offering short commentary pieces in response to the question: “How can we strengthen our traditions?”

An innocuous question, and not particularly specific, but then again, that was the point. It’s the context where that question found its legs: throughout 2017, there was a Canadian — and worldwide — conversation around statues, building names, and colonialism that sent tempers soaring, municipalities running, and social media humming.

Campion’s original email set the tone: “Casting a wary eye over the current wave of iconoclasm, statue-toppling, quasi-forced resignations, and all-round history-purging…”. So, the point of view is ‘wary.’ Huh. So I had to really think: Is this the genre of scholarship where I fit, especially since I’m no longer a practicing scholar?

The Dorchester Review receives mixed accolades, and that’s just fine by me. I’ve never been comfortable with the scholar-as-activist model, I do believe that there are points to be made on many sides of a lot of issues, and by the way, they offered to pay me — which is something no ‘scholarly’ journal has ever offered for my work.

Published twice per year by the Foundation for Civic Literacy, The Dorchester Review is a literary and historical journal that deliberately challenges concepts of political correctness. There are a lot of older white men propounding in the pages, and at times I read little more than a more refined version of the same arguments that fill the air at the local John Deere dealership, but even so, gems can be found. If you’re an armchair military historian, there will be much to enjoy. A lot of it is an uncomfortable read for me — but, I’m OK with that. Discomfort is important. If we only read the stuff we already agree with, what exactly are we learning?

The forum is called Safe-Guarding Traditionswhich includes thoughts from twenty-three writers, including me. And — here was the publishing dream — my name is on the top-row, between two authors whose work I enjoy: David Frum and Noah Richler. How about that! I enjoyed Brigitte Pellerin‘s call to “Be the Change,” to strengthen our own ability ‘to converse with others in the political arena’ while listening to points with which we disagree. Noah Richler’s “The Healing Circle” wants Canadians to tear down our existing house of Parliament to construct a new one. That was a bit of a hard pill for me, a past member of the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation. Yet the central point is exquisite: our leadership (MPs, elders and senators, and the Canadian people and press gallery) should sit in three concentric healing circles in a new space without colonial history. David Frum asks us to rename the August long weekend holiday to commemorate the battle of Amiens, a turning point in World War I. That, too, bears thought.

But I wrote something completely different. I started on the expected route, examining “How can we strengthen our traditions?” and how I might answer it. My preference has always been for buildings, bridges, and other social landmarks to be named for anyone or anything other than politicians (plants, animals, birds, heck, insects would be better in some cases); and I’m in favour of more statues, not less (supports the broader arts community, gives a focal point for public spaces, and a place for birds). But, were these points truly unique? No. So…delete delete delete.

Moments before the deadline, I had a bit of an epiphany. I didn’t have to write about statues, parliament, pieces of paper or names on buildings. What were some of our Saskatchewan traditions…and how could we in Saskatchewan make them stronger? Campion’s invitation arrived in fall, it was CFL season, and the Riders were top of mind. So, I thought, there is my hook. How can we in Saskatchewan make our Rider traditions even better?

I came up with a little piece I call Green is the Colour.

Green Is the Colour

For copyright reasons, I can’t reproduce the whole thing here. But here’s the final call (while crossing my fingers which I’m hoping will not be slapped too hard):

green-is-the-colour-2.jpg

So… Federated Co-operatives Limited, that’s your next project: create for us a potion. And sell it at the co-op. That is how we’ll strengthen a major Saskatchewan tradition.

 

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This is a story about aborted academic work. Years ago, I proposed and workshopped a paper. The original call came from fellow environmental history academics, building a curated book on the concept Landscape, Nature and Memory: Tourism History in Canada. We wrote the papers and sent them around for everyone to read before we got together. The workshop was held in Vancouver, and I remember my first introduction to Granville Island and Macleod’s Books. It was an invigorating workshop, with discussants and good conversation. I received good feedback (Ian MacKay liked my paper!) and thought that it would, in time, lead to publication. At the time, I was still occasionally aiming hopefully for an academic position.

 

But it was not to be. When the collection of papers from the workshop went around for external review, mine was deemed not a good fit for the overarching theme. It was too different. In some ways, I think the paper’s exclusion mimicked my own ‘differentness’ and ultimate exclusion from academia. But no matter. I worked on it a little more, and sent it out to Prairie Forum, a scholarly journal based out of Regina. I’d published with them before, and thought the little paper would have a chance to at least be read.

I didn’t hear back. At all. Strange, I thought. I forgot about it for a bit, then (remembering), dusted it off, and sent it to them again. It’s the internet, I decided. It does eat things, on occasion. It gets hungry. No worries. I’ll hear back this time.

Still nothing. No reply, no acknowledgement. So, I may be slow but eventually I get there. This poor little paper doesn’t have a home.

I could go back to it, work on it again, try to figure out where and how to make it academically publishable. Send it out again. And again. But that is no longer my life. Writing for an unpaid academic publication just isn’t an appropriate use of my time. So I won’t.

But it remains there, with many hours of research, and a lot of thought, hiding in a corner of my computer files. There is an old adage that says ‘unread books do no work.’ The same is true for articles. I didn’t manage to get it published (which would have meant external reviews, more work, and no doubt a much better article) but I can share it here, with you.

The article is about building the South Saskatchewan River Project, now known as the Gardiner Dam which created Diefenbaker Lake. It’s about the policy stories we tell, and how Saskatchewan desperately needed to create a story of water and beauty through tourism to counteract the post-Great Depression story of dust, aridity, and flatness.

dam

Gardiner Dam, South Saskatchewan River

Who might want to read it? Anyone who has visited the dam and wants to know a bit more of its history. Academics working on tourism, dam, or general prairie history might find it useful. But if you are not an academic, I warn you: this is filled with references, theory, and a bit of jargon. And a few stories. It might be worth your time.

Still, I’m ready for it to be in the world, with all of its flaws and problems. You can deal with it. I have confidence in you. Click on the PDF below and enjoy your read.

Damming Saskatchewan

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One of the most fascinating archival finds of my PhD research was a wonderful letter (in four parts) written in Cree syllabic. I came across it while researching the Adhesion to Treaty Six, which was signed by the people of the Montreal Lake and Lac La Ronge regions of Saskatchewan on a brutally cold February day in 1889.

Such files are usually read by Canadian researchers on microfilm, under the short name of ‘RG 10.’ RG stands for Record Group, and RG 10 files are primarily from Indian Affairs. These are critical files for researchers, from a time when correspondence was letters (not email or social media). While the files are mostly written by, for, and back and forth between those employed by Indian Affairs, there is the occasional fascinating jewel of a letter written by a local person. Even more rarely, there is a wonderful letter written, in Cree syllabic, by local First Nations leaders.

I took scans of these letters immediately, although I can read neither syllabic nor Cree. They languished in my digital files while I worked my way through other research, which eventually became my book, Forest Prairie Edge. The following is an excerpt that explains the Treaty Six Adhesion:

“After years of agitation and repeated requests from the boreal bands in the north Prince Albert region, the Crown finally agreed to offer treaty. The difference between an internal adhesion and an external adhesion was crucial: an internal adhesion added people to existing treaty stipulations; an external adhesion added both new people and new lands to an existing treaty. In the latter, treaty terms were at least somewhat negotiable.

“The external adhesion attempted to sort out a dual problem. On the one hand, there were bands with homes in the north Prince Albert region, within the boundaries of Treaty 6, that had not been offered treaty. Securing an external adhesion, which acted essentially as a new treaty, clarified the uncertainty of who was, and who was not, in treaty relationship with the Crown. Although there is nothing in the official records to act as confirmation, an external adhesion could negate continuing calls for arrears in treaty annuity payments.”

“The second problem came from the commercial interests of investors in Prince Albert. Surveyors, scouting and marking out timber berths, realized that the boundaries of Treaty 6 did not entirely cover the potential area of forest resources that the Prince Albert community believed was within their economic sphere. In short, the land ceded by Treaty 6 did not correspond to the boundaries of the Saskatchewan District of the North-West Territories[i] or Prince Albert’s intended commercial empire of northern boreal resources. Officials at Indian Affairs explained: “The object in getting the surrender just now is in order that the Govt might legally dispose of the lumber in that Section permits to cut which have in some cases already been issued.”[ii] It was a somewhat frantic and belated effort to legally rectify a serious error—the government was issuing timber permits on land that had possibly not yet been ceded by treaty.”

During the treaty negotiations, the Cree leaders from Montreal Lake had a somewhat different view than their Lac La Ronge counterparts in what should be included in the articles and terms of the treaty, and what should be included in the initial and subsequent treaty payments. The syllabic letters that I found were sent to Ottawa after the treaty negotiations were complete and the treaty signed, but before the first payment came in the fall of 1889. The letters came from the Montreal Lake leadership, outlining in further detail their thoughts on the treaty, and what would be most useful to them as part of their treaty payment. They had clearly had some time to think, and wanted to send a message on their expectations and needs. However, it is not known if anyone working for Indian Affairs at the time was able to translate these requests.

The letters are a mix of Cree syllabic and English handwriting, and are written by three different people: Chief William Charles, councilor Benjamin Bird (who wrote 2 of the four pages), and councilor Isaac Bird. In 2016, I met Dion Tootoosis at an event in support of Prince Albert National Park. I told him about the texts. Soon after, Andrea Custer, the Cree Language developer for the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre took the project in hand. With the help and advice of Arok Wolvengrey and Solomon Ratt, Andrea was able to translate the syllabic into today’s written Cree, and for my benefit, to English (I am so grateful for the extra translation). Andrea deserves all the credit for shepherding this important work.

Cree Syllabic one_001

Page one, from Chief William Charles, who also requested (in English) matches, and a copy of the treaty document.

Cree Syllabic One (from Chief William Charles)

Line:

  1. nimithwîthihtîn, ninanâskomâw kihci-okimâskwîw
    I am happy, I give thanks to the Queen
  2. mîna otatoskîthâkana ôta ê-nakaskamâhk
    and also her workers, here where we meet
  3. mâka nipakosîthimonân kita-kitimâkihtahk nipîkiskwîninân
    but I hope she listens with compassion for our talk
  4. ôma kâ-wî-isi-kâkîsimototawâyahkik nîci-tipahamâtwânânak
    this where we are going to pray for our fellow treaty people
  5. nistam kâ-tipahamâtohk pîhonânihk sônîyâwak nîstanân
    the first treaty payment here at (Ft. Carlton or F. La Corne) for us
  6. kâ-ati-otayâniyâhk êkosi nitisi-kâkîsimonân
    to have clothing, this is what we pray for

It seems clear that the translation of Fort Carlton or Fort La Corne is a bit incorrect, as this document references the treaty terms signed at Molanosa. The expected fall treaty payment for the Montreal Lake band would take place at the south end of the lake, in what would become their home reserve. But otherwise, the Chief greets the Queen and asks for compassion for his people.

cree syllabic two_001

Page two, from Benjamin Bird.

The second page is from Benjamin Bird, who was an outspoken councilor both at the negotiations and as shown by his two syllabic pages.

Cree Syllabic Two (Benjamin Bird)

Line:

  1. hâw êkwa nîsta nititwân ninanâskomânân
    me too I say we give thanks to
  2. kihci-okimâskwîw êkwa ê-wâpahtamâhk okitimâkîyihcikêwin
    the Queen and we see her compassion
  3. okiskinwahamâkîw (syllabic too faded to read) isinamâkîw??
    teacher __________the one who hands out
  4. sôniyâwa kitakî-wî-mîthikoyâhk
    money, to give us back (Give us back the money)
  5. mostoswak ê-ohci-pî-mîkicik mistikonâpêw
    cattle, we were supposed to be given, by James Smtih
  6. amêwistoyân mâka itwêw ka-ohci-pamihikawîyâhk
    the bearded one said, this is where we will be well taken care of
  7. êkotê kihci-ohci-pamihihcik, tâskipocikan
    from there we were supposed to be taken care of; rip saw
  8. cîkahikana, pakwâyinîkana
    axes, canvas
  9. mônahihcikêkâkana athapiy-asapâp
    hoes, twines for nets
  10. pîminahkwâna, pâskisikana, akahamâtowin.
    ropes, gun, ration
  11. ninohtêpathihikonân kâ-pî-pipohk mîna tânithikohk
    we are short this winter and how much
  12. kâ-pî-asamikawîyâhk
    we were given to be fed
cree syllabic three_001

Page three, from Isaac Bird. Note: in English, Isaac added: requested also for cooking stoves and trowels

Cree Syllabic Three (Isaac Bird)

Line:

  1. nimithwîthihtînân kâ-isi-pihtamâhk
    we are happy that we hear
  2. î-kî-kitimâkîthimikoyâhk kihci-okimâskwîw
    that the Queen shows us compassion
  3. ______ ikosi nîsta î-isi-tipâhtamân
    this is what I hear also
  4. anihi nitâsotamâkowininâna
    those things we were promised
  5. mîna kitakî-wî-tipahamâkawiyâhk
    we were supposed to be paid out
  6. sôniyâwak
    money
  7. ikwa mîna kotaka nipakosîthimonân
    and also we are hoping
  8. î-wî-natotamâhk
    to ask for other things
cree syllabic four_001

Page four, from Benjamin Bird.

Cree Syllabic Four

Line:

  • âhaw êkwa nîstanân niwî-nanâskomânân

yes, and we give thanks

  • kihci-okimâskwîw mîna otatoskîthâkana êkwa

to the Queen and workers and

  • kâ-sâsakwîthimot ayi-misiwî-askîhk ê-pê-tamâkoyâhk

Where her roles all over the land, she brings us

  • otinamâtowina ninanâskomânân mîna

her care (responsibility), we give thanks and

  • nimithwîthihtînân ê-pî-tipahamâkoyâhk

we are happy she came to pay us

  • nitaskînâhk êyak-ohci okitimâkîthimowinihk

our land, we are calling on her

  • kâ-wî-natomâyâhk mistiko-nâpêw ninatotamânân

compassion for us. James Smith we ask

  • okanawînamâkîw kistêkiwiyiniw, tâskipocikan,

the Indian Agent for: rip saw,

  • kâ-wâskâwîpiniht, kinipocikanisina,

wheels (Wagon), files for saw,

  • kîskimana, napaki-cîkahikana, athahikîhikana,

files, flat axes, rakes,

  • nanâtohk kiscikânisa, maskihkiya,

seeds, medicine,

  • ayawinisa, pîkopicikânisa, ê-kâsisiki

clothing, ploughs, sharp (nails)

  • sakahikana, wâpamoni-pîskowâsînamâna

nails, window panes

I was absolutely delighted to receive these wonderful translations. They speak to me in a clear voice, across the years, of local leadership working hard to put their people to the best advantage in the negotiations of the treaty. The requests show a wonderful mix of boreal forest tools, such as rip saws for forestry and net twine for fishing, with local agricultural needs such as rakes, hoes and seeds. Window panes and nails for building strong homes fitted well with calls for medicine and clothes. Isaac Bird spoke loudest about money payments, which should have (but did not) include back payment for all the years between the original signing of Treaty Six in 1876, and the new signing in 1889.

With the help and support of Andrea Custer and the Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, these detailed syllabics and their modern translations can now be shared with you.

[i] Ray, Miller, and Tough, Bounty and Benevolence, 144.

[ii] LAC, RG 10 Vol. 3601, File 1754, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Edgar Dewdney to Indian Commissioner Hayter Reed, 6 December 1888.

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Actually, that’s an arbitrary number. I’m pretty sure that I made more mistakes than that — and I have no doubt that the people who interviewed me saw more than I remember.

But my goal is to help others who might be chasing the academic dream to…reveal…to you what I know for sure that I did wrong during my short-lived time attempting to land an elusive position as a tenure-track faculty member somewhere in Canadian academia.

(more…)

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I really enjoyed this interview, with Derrick Kunz of the Green and White, University of Saskatchewan newspaper:

http://www.usask.ca/greenandwhite/stories/massie/index.php

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The following was originally published (in slightly edited form) for ActiveHistory.ca 23 January 201. We’re a group of historians interested in thinking about history and its current and future applications.

So, I’m writing a book.

What follows, for your January darn-it’s-cold-and-I’m-ready-for-something-kind-of-fun reading pleasure, is a primer (briefing notes) about the book. Given the growing recognition that Mother Nature remains strong and rather angry about human-induced climate change – kudos to everyone who spent Christmas with no power – I’m writing about human migration.

Drawing lessons from families who pulled up stakes and moved during the Great Trek from one biome (prairie south) to another (boreal north) due to drastic climate and economic problems during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties, this book is based on history but with an eye to practical suggestions for the future. Imagine me having a conversation with my Grandpa and Grandma: what should I do to be prepared? Some of the following five lessons may or may not apply to your situation. It depends if you have a horse. Lessons may be tongue-in-cheek or serious. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

The underlying premise of the book is that climate change is happening and is worsening, and that Canada (in particular, Canada’s middle north and north) has been pinpointed as a place to which climate migrants from around the world may flee.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

Lesson one:

Leave sooner rather than later. Leave at the first sign of things going drastically wrong. Use this opportunity to go directly to a place where you think you might like to be. North Bay, Ontario? The Pas, Manitoba? Prince George, BC? Excellent choices – fresh water, some farmland, some trees, but with access to hospitals and schools. Edge places, with a lot of variety. You will be much more successful if you move sooner and get established, while you still have some capital and some energy. Waiting, hanging on where you are until the last moment, will cause you trouble in the long run. Takeaway: pull out your map of Canada and pinpoint possibilities. Then do your homework.

Lesson two:

Take family with you. And friends. And choose a place where you know a few people already. This is called social capital and you will need it. If things go to ‘hell in a handbasket’, as the old saying goes, you may need to rely on each other, pool resources, work together. This is no time to stand on your own, be stand-offish or independent. Social capital can save you or pull you through when things are tough. This will also help when you get lonesome and homesick for the place that you had to leave. Having your family and friends with you, instead of leaving them behind, will take the edge off your move. Takeaway: start making a plan, involve your friends and family, and make your social capital work for you.

Lesson three:

You will probably have to take lots of small jobs that rotate seasonally rather than one job. Yes, you’re right, you will be poorer. But you shouldn’t starve. Losing the single employment that brings in cash can put you in the poorhouse faster than you can say ‘mortgage payment.’ Having lots of small jobs usually means that you have a lot of skills that are portable and have value. You will need to be flexible if you are forced to move because of climate change. You may not find a job in your area of expertise, or you may find one but it may not be full-time. As the economy shifts beneath our feet, you may need to branch out. If you’re already on this path, good for you: you’re one step ahead. Takeaway: the future economy is perilous. The one-job, one-wage norm is changing. Change first, on your own terms. Be ahead of the curve.

Lesson four:

Physical labour will probably be required. Some of it will be hard, some of it will be icky. Learn to chop wood, use a chainsaw, haul water, build a fire, cook with wood, grow a garden, pick berries, shoot a gun, catch and gut a fish, learn your plants in the real world instead of the supermarket, and in general get closer to the land. Buy workgloves and work boots and work clothes. Expect your work days to last longer than 7.5 hours. Expect to work outside in all weather, in all seasons. Can you fix things yourself? Brush up on that. If storms and floods and fires and other major catastrophes are increasing, you need to be ready. Takeaway: join Scouts, make friends with an active grandparent who cooks, sews, cans, and has a garden, volunteer at a summer camp, take classes in plumbing, electricity, carpentry, and mechanics, and get fit. Be brave.

Lesson five:

Your horse might die of swamp fever. Otherwise known as ‘migration surprise,’ there may be material things (wifi gadgets, electrical gadgets, cars) or animals in your life who will either miss the old landscape so much that they won’t work in the new one (if, by chance, you end up in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods) or they find something in the new one that may kill them. Horses, for example, seem very good at contracting infectious anemia (swamp fever). Transmitted by mosquito bite, and mosquitos are common to nice wet areas, the best line of defense is to learn to make a smudge. Build a fire, then partially smother it with wet straw. Smokes like the dickens. Mosquitos hate it. Word of warning: cars don’t like northern roads, which are notorious when they exist and worse when they don’t. Buy a truck. With a winch. If you can’t afford a truck, and only have a car and a horse, take your chances on the horse. As for your internet fix, that’s harder. See lesson one about choosing your destination. Takeaway: cars vs. horses: horse wins. Cars vs. trucks: take the truck. And address your wifi habit before you go.

Recap: move first, move with friends and family, be flexible, be prepared, and be ready for surprises.

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This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca 14 May 2013.

Over the past two years, I lurked in the halls and wandered wide-eyed through the conferences of my social and natural science colleagues. An interdisciplinary institutional postdoctoral fellowship, funded by MISTRA (The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research) and routed through the University of Saskatchewan, ensured my place at the lunch table and at the front of the classroom.

So, I’ve spent two years trying to explain how I, as a humanist, conduct my research. More importantly, I’ve noticed, the question is not so much how, but where does that research take place?

Since most of my professional work has focused on the 20th and 21st century, I do (on occasion) conduct interviews and focus groups with living people. I even have a working knowledge of qualitative methods, rigour, and the point of statistical analysis. I parlayed this penchant into the postdoc, with good results. But I remain, at heart, a document hunter/gatherer.

Working with social and natural scientists, I soon learned that research is about data generation. Set up the research parameters/test/study/measurement/focus group/survey/experiment, in order to generate data. Few, if any, ever work with someone else’s data set. The core concern is to generate something new.

That was my first hurdle: what I always thought of as ‘sources,’ now had to become ‘data.’ It’s a bump in the sidewalk that I trip over, every time.

No matter. I forge ahead, explaining gently that although I do sometimes generate new data (using oral interview techniques, statistical analysis, or focus groups), I usually work with sources that already exist. It becomes my job to find those sources, hunt and gather, thinking laterally and strategically, sometimes hitting brick walls or large empty chasms where my ‘data’ (sources) should be but are not. Or I am showered in luck, serendipity, and happenstance and find a treasure trove, an untapped new source waiting for me to harvest, like a new bed of sweet grass, or a docile pod of mule deer.

But, but, where do these sources exist? Are you talking about libraries? Confusion reigns, for libraries, of course, contain outdated data. If it’s in a book, it’s too old. Anything more than five years old is virtually unusable. (Of course, we all recognize the deliberately obtuse generalization here – many social scientists regularly work with similar sources and data sets. Natural scientists, though, perhaps not so much).

No. My data/sources are to be found in archives. Archives? What, exactly, are archives and what kinds of information do you find there?

And that’s how I twigged onto a new way of explaining where I conduct research.

An archive, I now explain, is much like a lab: laboratory space along the lines of the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron at Saskatoon or one of the Toxicology labs or a soil science lab or….  A lab has certain physical requirements that are conducive to research: it requires physical space with heating, light, and custodial services; equipment (shelves, tables, chairs, finding aids and guides, archival quality storage boxes and containers, microfilm readers, lightboxes, cotton gloves, and pencils instead of thermal analyzers or microcalorimeters or…); it needs trained staff (archivists); and it houses raw materials (archival documents, which range from photographs to text to sound recordings, collected over time).

The questions that I, as a researcher, bring to the archive are what guide me through my research process, in the same way that another researcher might ask questions and conduct experiments using the materials/equipment found in a lab. Different researchers posing different questions use different equipment and materials. Each archive is slightly different in its materials and equipment, just like no two labs are exactly the same.

Presto pow! Lights on, understanding, and we’re back on equal footing. (There remain big questions surrounding how I do research and if it is objective, verifiable, and replicate-able, but those are larger questions that might never be solved, as they stand at the dividing line between humanities and natural science research).

Why is this important? I call on all of my fellow humanists and social science researchers who use archives to co-opt this terminology switch, and broadcast it freely. Because I believe that this terminology switch might help save our archives from folding under the collective weight of government and institutional non-support. At a time when investment in science-based laboratory and experimental research is growing (witness the Global Institute for Water Security, and the new Global Institute for Food Security at the U of S), archives funding is cut. We can stop this.

Archives (which collects a record of anthro-centric activity reaching back through time) is the laboratory with which to build research that changes the way our world works and thinks about itself. In fact, I charge you to find another lab that has supported an equal range of research depth and breadth and temporal scope. Where would we be in our knowledge about residential schools, lesbian and gay rights, health geography and poverty, First Nations land claims, war activities, medicare, social protest, and climate change without archives? Accessed by researchers not only in history but in archaeology and anthropology, art, literature, science, technology, sociology, linguistics, education, law, commerce and business, industrial development, mining, resource management, First Nations and Metis studies, institutional foundations, governance and government, medicine and nursing, engineering and agriculture, archives reflect how we as humans make decisions, and what the consequences of those decisions have been.

So let’s make one easy switch: the next time you visit an archive, think of it – and talk about it to interdisciplinary colleagues, institutional leadership, and your MLA and MP – as a laboratory. Co-opt the language that is already implicitly understood – and funded.

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[Note: this post is a reprint from a blog I wrote for The Otter, the blogpost for NiCHE, Network in Canadian History of the Environment. Find the original post here: http://niche-canada.org/node/10456]

I remember my first sight of the old Albert Kessel farm. Nestled on the number Four Saskatchewan highway halfway between Biggar and Rosetown, I loved it from the moment I laid eyes on it — through the window of the truck on my way for my first visit to my then-boyfriend’s parents’ farm. “Wow!” I remember saying. “Look at all those great trees!” A northern Saskatchewan bush girl, I hadn’t yet become attuned to the distinctive and iconic prairie landscape. The spruce and jackpine seemed a dollop of ‘home-as-trees’, stretching to brush the clouds of the prairie sky.

I couldn’t predict, then, that one day I would own that piece of land.

When luck looped through our world and the land came into our ownership and stewardship, I found numerous treasures embedded in the landscape. Stone fences, crumbling. An old road, now leading nowhere. An orchard, the last few hardy trees still birthing fruit. A well, which, when primed, still spills forth fresh water. Another wellhead, furtively tucked under trees and surrounded by growth, littered with empty whiskey jugs – the remains of a still? A steel-wheeled wagon, abandoned so long that its front right wheel is encased by the tree that quietly grew from sapling to spire, anchoring the wagon to the earth, ending its rolling days. A swatch of the Bear Hills, never tilled, native prairie warming the soil like a thick kokum’s quilt.

Wagon at the Kessel farm. Merle Massie collection.

One hill in particular rises to attention, flowing above the farm and the circle of pine and spruce. At its top, a cairn of stones cradles an old, rusted, flagpole.

Flagpole at the Kessel farm, 2006. Merle Massie collection.

Since our purchase, I’ve been trolling the memories of neighbors, local museums, and community history books, gleaning accounts of the farm’s original owner: Albert Kessel, a garlic-chewing, eccentric, WWI bugler, journalist, Czechoslovakian master prize-winning bachelor farmer crossed in love. Fascinating.

Albert Kessel, 1958. “Yielded 45 bushels to acre.” Hills in background. Courtesy Biggar Museum.

I wrote about Albert Kessel and my search for knowledge about him in 2008, published in the June/July issue of The Beaver, now Canada’s History Magazine. I knew that Kessel operated a demonstration farm, which was widely-known and visited every year on field day by as many as 400 researchers from the University of Saskatchewan, federal experimental farms, the Searle Grain Company, neighbors, and busloads of schoolchildren. He called it Vimy Ridge Farm.

Kessel was a bugler during WWI, shot through the thigh at Vimy Ridge. In my article for The Beaver, I wrote: did this hill remind Albert of Vimy Ridge? Is that why he called his farm Vimy Ridge Farm? Did he ever blow his bugle up here? I thought it most likely that the hill, or the series of hills, reminded Albert of his harrowing French experience. In salute, Kessel erected a flagpole and every day, he would stump up the hill and fly a British flag.

At the time, I had never visited the real Vimy Ridge. All I knew of the site was confined to history books and photographs, a landscape of the imagination but never of experience. I thought that Vimy Ridge was like Hill 70 or another strategic marker on a theatre of war where every height of land meant a mile more of sovereignty. That changed in 2009, when I visited Vimy Ridge during a conference tour of Belgium and France.

The experience was overwhelming. The imprint of war on the landscape is still tangible. I visited the tunnels, shuddered at being underground, and felt my jaw drop as my eyes skidded over the craters and hummocks that pock the grass – debris from bombs that exploded on the landscape nearly a century ago. Whether or not you believe that Canada was forged at Vimy Ridge – and I’m not a pinpointer of history – knowing that you stand on Canadian soil in the middle of France redefines your perception of what it means to be Canadian.

But it was at the monument that I had my epiphany. And I wasn’t looking at the monument when it happened. I was looking out, at a flat French landscape that was both foreign and intimately familiar. I was reminded of my own words in that article I wrote for The Beaver: To the north of the yard is a commanding hill, hosting a phenomenal panoramic view of the prairies in a fifty-mile swing from east to southwest.

France, from Vimy Ridge. Merle Massie collection.

I knew, in that instant, why Albert Kessel named our farm Vimy Ridge Farm. It wasn’t about the hill – it was the view. From both Vimy Ridge in France, and Vimy Ridge Farm in Saskatchewan, the two landscapes provide a near mirror-image of space, sky, and panoramic earth. Of course, France is covered in towns, villages, trees, and industry: the pyramids are piles of coal, and that is what both armies wanted. Saskatchewan provides a relatively empty prairie view, studded with a few isolated farmsteads and an expansive agricultural skin regularly grown and shaved by generations of farmers.

When Alan MacEachern issued his lovely summer call for photographs of historical landscapes (http://niche-canada.org/node/10423) I considered where I might go, what I would like to see. But my heart knew that I had already made this trip, even if it did not conform exactly to specs. My story draws together two landscapes separated by an ocean and half a continent, and almost a century of time. The story of Vimy Ridge, and the cascading memories of place, connected a little farm in Saskatchewan with an iconic Canadian symbol.

One day, we’ll raise the flag again. We’ll do it for tenacious Saskatchewan homesteaders; for unlucky romances; for Great War and Vimy Ridge veterans; for excellence in prairie agriculture; and, for garlic-chewing bachelor farmers.

And that’s my story.

Vimy Ridge Farm Flagpole, 2012.

 

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