Sunday, July 9, 2017

Deranger Brothers





Donald, Ronnie, Peter, Rossi, Max, Adam, (bottom) Billy, Freddy
Growing up with ten brothers, plus one, in the hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta was crazy hectic and unpredictable. I was always surrounded with strong-minded guys who knew how to diffuse conflict using humour and straight talk.   We have our differences but they will always hold a sacred place in my world. They are respectful of women, that is important quality to me.  Moreover, I never have to worry that they would disown me over any disagreements.  My brothers have never treated me badly, never said an unkind word about me or to me. We are family in every sense of the word. My brothers treated me like brothers treat their baby sister do the world over, teasing me, challenging me and protecting me. 

I am grateful that my brothers have the kindest heart and are responsible men; even through they experienced many challenges in their life. They struggle with their own demons resulting from residential school.  Although, they didn't all go to residential school, but the older ones, still had to go to Edmonton for high school.  

Some of my brothers fought alcohol abuse, and by-in-large, I am pleased to say they won.  I continue learning from them.    The bond that connects us is our culture and Denesuline language.  
  

PETER WANDERING RIVER
Peter Deranger 2010
I love this picture, i took it at breakfast 2016
Peter is my oldest brother.  My earliest memory of him was in Uranium City, Saskatchewan.  He carries me through dense bushes on a narrow pathway until we reached the edge of the lake where a floatplane was waiting for me.  I remember my little arms clinging to his neck and didn’t want to let go; he whispered, be a big girl, as he handed me over to someone standing on the floats.  I watched him getting smaller and smaller as the plane went higher up into the sky.  He stood there, waving until I could not see him any longer. I think I was about three years old.
He always had a stacks of books, which I remember reading when I was younger.   He loves reading. 
Peter was an environmentalist, before the word became politically correct. And when it actually meant a way of life. He lived a simple life on the land with his young family when he was a young man.  Later, he became an activist and fought for Indigenous rights across Canada and into the United States. He is also a writer and a darn good storyteller.   He is a gentle man, not known for any outbursts and holds an attitude that is akin to a wise old man.  He is a hippie elder. 
“The land is our life.  We are related and connected spiritually to all creation. The wind of the north, east, south, and the west, is our breath of life.” Peter
“There was a time, a long, long, time ago, old people say “ inkonze” (traditional knowledge) ancient times. The legend says that animals turned themselves into people; salmon people, crow people, bear people, caribou people, etc.  and they would visit among real people.  They came to teach us how to care for our animal relatives and the lands we shared. However, in the early 1950’s when the children were forced into the mission, nuns and priest told us not to believe in these stories old people told us. Then we were taught to laugh at the legends.  We were told that our grandfathers were superstitious and simple.  Sadly our animal relatives communicated with us no more.”  That is how we lost our power. The truth is, this ancient power is still there.  It survives deep in our DNA, deep, in our soul and mind.  All we have to do is awaken it. Go to the land, sleep under the stars and among the trees.” Peter

FREDDY
I have many memories of Freddy when I was young.  I remember his wedding; it was December 27, just after Christmas.  His bride Hazel was so beautiful, they both looked so happy, over 300 well-wishers arrived at our house in Doghead after the church service, all in a celebratory mood. 

He was amusing. Once when I was living with him in Fort Chipewyan; he came home after getting a loan for his business.  He had tons of money. More money than I ever saw, which he proceeded to throw on the bed and told me to play in the money. I started jumping up and down on it.  He stood there laughing while I rolled all over the money.  Crazy what we remember as kids!

Freddy is a kind charismatic man.  He loves history and mathematics.  He has strong views on politics, which we sometimes disagree on.  I like that we can disagree on something and moments later he will tell me a joke.  He does not hold grudges and his smile can be so disarming.  His favorite saying to me is “Don’t say I know!”  And, I would say I know.  Lol

JIMMY
Jimmy is the brother who once took me to a political delegation meeting.  And before I knew it he was telling me I should go on stage to put my name forward to be a delegate. Next thing you know, I was on the plane to Ottawa as a youth delegate, sponsored by the Ghermezian brothers, famous for building the West Edmonton Mall.  I have no idea how he got them to sponsor me! 

He studied political science in university and was always interested in politics.  We could talk for hours about it.  He gave me so many recommendations of books on history and politics. He however, never forgot his roots and balanced city life with the natural appeal for the simple life of the land.

As an elder he has so much knowledge and is willing to share them with anyone who wants to listen. He calls me “the most beautiful big baby girl in the world! ” 

BILLY
1950-2012
I will always remember Billy for his humour.  Politically astute and brilliant at making people feel at ease. A month before he passed away he called me and said he didn’t think he would make it until Christmas. I said, "don’t say that!"  But he knew, I am glad he called to talk to me before he died just before Christmas. 
He was a welder by trade. 

When I was young he would tease me all the time.  Once, after some of the boys came back with fish, just as he was going to tell me not to touch it, I had already put my little hand in the fish’s mouth and it closed around it. I yelled! He carefully opened the mouth and took my hand out. Then laughing, he told me to stick with washing dishes and leave the fish to the big boys.   





PATRICK
I never heard Pat raise his voice at anyone.  He is a gentle and calm man.  One of my favorite memories of him was when he received a guitar for Christmas.  He taught himself how to play within no time. 

And I will always hold as a special memory of when he told me about why love was the strongest emotion one could have.  He said, nothing else mattered but love. 

He is now a respected elder and teaches others about the special relationship between mother earth and humans.

RONNIE
Ronnie’s eyes sparkle like diamonds!  You get right away that he has found inner peace and wisdom. A memory I have is of him telling me to get onto the handle bar of his bike.  I remember feeling safe as the wind blew my hair, but at the same time, still feeling absolute fear as he peddled faster down the hill in Doghead.  In this memory, I still feel both the exhilaration and fear. 

He is an amazing human being, with so much positive energy.  He never complains about anything or anybody.  He practices Zen meditation.  He has learned how to cultivate mindfulness and positive energy. In fact, he is the person who introduces me to Buddhism after our brother Christopher died.  The fist book he gave me was “Living in theFace of Death”.  After reading the book on the plane from Regina, Saskatchewan to Ottawa, Ontario, I was convinced that Buddhism was right for me. 

DONALD
Donald is my nephew but we were raised together, making him more like a brother.  I looked up to him.

He always had this big grin and a pleasant disposition. Since he is older than me, I remember him always being responsible and hard working.   I remember when he ran for school president on the student council,  the first thing he did was get a movie projector for the school.  I thought at the time that he could and would do anything he sets his mind on. 
One summer when the family was on N22, he went missing.  Everyone was searching for him.  Thankfully, I think, it was two days later, he walked back into camp.  

He walks the fine line of being a cultural man and being on the board of directors of  a major oil company.  He understands the struggle of protecting the environment and the necessary economy of First Nations.  He is a forward thinker, you might even say, futurist.    Certainly he is a man in the unique position of being from the past, present and future. 

ROGER
My memory of Roger, when he was a young boy, is he loved studying religion.  When he was about 13 he had developed arthritis in his knees but that never stopped him from doing things.  Even today, nothing stops him from getting where he needs to be.  He is the epitome of the nomadic spirit.  
One Christmas, he gave me an album - the Jungle Book.  I really loved that movie and would play the record all the time.  I don’t even know where he bought it.
A couple of years ago before our mom died, we both were heading into the hospital to visit her, when a lady approached us.  We stopped and Roger started speaking Denesuline with her in a dialect I didn’t recognize.  He was speaking with ease, which really surprised me.   As it turns out he speaks many Denesuline dialects fluently.  Who knew?  It is something he picked up in his travels among the various Dene from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and NWT.
Roger is an artist. He studied journalism and native communications.  That investigative nature continued as he traveled around to different communities. He is a writer and is currently working on a collection of stories. 

This is an excerpt of his writing; 
I was spending Christmas at my mom’s place in Fort McMurray, where she moved in 1975, when I received an unexpected phone call from Yellowknife, NT.  It was a job offer that was to begin on January 2nd, 1982, in the land of the midnight sun. They offered me a journalist position over the phone writing for a bi-weekly native newspaper. That call made my day and my answer without hesitation was, “yes,” to be a newspaper reporter for a native paper that is what I went to university for. My expectation and enthusiasm was over the moon. Once, again, I’m going to experience something new, the people and the land!  However, I wasn’t in a rush. I enjoyed my time with my late mother at her Christmas dinner, and then I had a good few days with the rest of my family. I told them that I am leaving again. By now, most of them didn’t care because they were getting used to me traveling all the time.
Being up North overwhelmed me with something I can’t describe. Whatever it is, it first took my spirit in 1979 when I first went up there and it will forever be a part of who I am.  I was looking forward to this new adventure. 

ROSSI
1957 – 2016
He was my big brother, my protector and we were very close.   He could make me laugh like no other person and we certainly had plenty of laughs over many years.  I am so thankful to have had him in my life.  We spent so much time together, sometimes in silence. 
An early memory is when we were playing with a little ax in the yard.  We were way too young to play with axes.  Not sure how it happened but I ended up with almost cutting my tiny finger off and Rossi ran to get help.  I think, he always felt bad about it. 
Rossi loved to travel and hitched hiked across Canada when he was only 14 years old to visit a cousin in Ontario.  He was adventurous and playful but also had his serious moody side. 
Music and driving were his passions. He loved driving and earned a good living driving taxi in Edmonton for many years. 

CHRISTOPHER
1961-2001
I smile when I think about Chris, because I always think about this incident when we were young.  Chris and his best buddy Colin used to play in the hills behind our houses.  One evening we were waiting for him to come in for supper.  One of my other brothers went out to get him, apparently he was afraid to come home.  When we saw him at the door, we all burst out laughing.  He stood there, face blackened, and no eyebrows.  Apparently, he and Colin were trying to light a can and it blew up in their faces.  Fortunately, they were not hurt, just embarrassed.  
Chris was a great dad and loved his children.  You would see him taking them for walks all the time. 





MAX  
Max is my youngest brother. Max was always very athletic.  When he was in high school he was part of a wrestling team and apparently very good too.  I remember when he came to visit me at university, he would walk up six flights with weights on his legs and still made it to the top before me. I don’t have many memories of him when we were young because he would always travel with our mom during the summer months to visit relatives in Saskatchewan. I remember that he loved to play with his cars and line them up across the living room floor.  And no one could touch them. 

Max is a deep thinker and mostly keeps to himself.  He is called “bushman” by some of his friends because he lives to be in the bush.   He is also a very compassionate person and was the caretaker of both our parent when they got older and needed someone to be there with them all the time.  He also took care of Rossi the summer of 2016 after the fire in Fort McMurray.  I think he missed his calling as a nurse. 
A couple of years ago he came to visit me in Ontario.  It was so nice to have him here.  Not only because he shovelled the snow. Lol  

2 comments:

DUTA said...

That's an ideal family situation, where brothers and sisters are good to each other and to their parents.
This post is a beautifully written tribute to your brothers! Your love and respect for them is felt in every word.

Angelina Pratt said...

Thank you Duta, I really don't know how my mother did it. :)

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