Saturday, September 6, 2014

Up Ghost River, Edmund Metatawabin and Alexandra Shimo

I was having lunch in a hotel restaurant in Edmonton Alberta when Ed walked in.  He was there to
meet his editor to discuss some notes on a book he was writing.  I recognized him immediately, although I am not sure when we last saw each other. I think it was perhaps shortly after he became Chief of Fort Albany First Nation in 1992.  What an amazing coincidence running into him.  Both of us were in Edmonton for just a short period.  I was not even staying at that particular hotel, but I was there meeting another person for lunch.

I first met Ed while I was a student and he was the director of student services at the Aboriginal Students Centre at the University of Alberta.  I knew both him and his lovely wife Joan and had been to their house, west of the city limits, a few times.
 
Ed has an undeniable charisma and a self-assured demeanour. He always struck me as a person who would do something remarkable with his life.

So, when I read his book review in the National Post, I knew I had to buy it straight away.  Thanks to Kindle, all it took was a click and it was downloaded onto my iPad within seconds.
  
Now, here is the thing, behind those dark brown eyes concealed some deep dark secrets. It’s interesting because he always exuded confidence and had a wicked sense of humour. Every time I saw him over the years he always greeted me with a smile.  Not just an ordinary or polite smile, but it was a genuine big smile.  His face radiated happiness and his eyes sparkled.

Reading his book, I felt like I never knew him. Not really. For sure there are qualities of him that are familiar, like his down to earth persona and his dedication for his people. However, his childhood experiences and wounds were not something he revealed to the world, at least until he wrote about them.

I highly recommend that your read his book.
 
The first story about his baby sister Rita will tug at your heart as you get a glimpse of his compassion even as a young child. This compassion never leaves him, no matter what he endured throughout his life.  He tells the story of his time at St. Anne residential school with almost a distant voice, like it was happening to someone else.  I sense that it is the only way to cope with the unspeakable and inhumane treatment he sustained at the hands of those who were suppose to “care" for him.    

You need to read about this period slowly to understand the rest of his journey. A journey that comes full circle, returning him to his roots, where he is most complete, next to the standing ones. 

He effectively sums up his feelings in this one quote:


“…I thought that the icicles hanging from the branches looked like phantom leaves. 
There’re like all of us. Numb and just hanging there.  Just a wind’s breath away from falling off.”


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