In honour of National Aboriginal Day on June 21, we at Canada Writes are presenting our own contribution to the CBC's groundbreaking 8th Fire project: "The Way Forward," an original series by some of the country's leading and emerging Aboriginal writers.
In this entry, one of Canada's most prolific Aboriginal authors reimagines the creation of an iconic park—one where everyone is welcome.
Mink Witnesses the Creation of Stanley Park
By Lee Maracle
I ran through Chinatown, past the sign saying: No dogs, Indians or Chinamen allowed. I got to get to Chaythoos before sunset. The waves lick at the shores. At Xway’xway I hear shouting and hollering, mostly Sparrow talkers. It’s what I call white guys. I’ve gotten good at Sparrow. They are right above me. I skip up the hill. What a sight; longhouse planks and shingles splayed out haphazardly over the hill above the shell midden. Horses with carts line up; dozens of men shovel shells into wheelbarrows. Others wheel the barrows to the carts and others load the carts. Horse shit is everywhere. The stench offends my mink sensibility.
“Line that cart up, Charlie,” the big guy shouts.
“What the x%Q# do you think I’m doing!”—tad over the top, Charlie—and he pulls his horse’s ear, the other horse kicks up his front legs, which gets the other horses prancing back and forth. The line of horses threatens to get out of control.
“Gawd damnit Charlie
” He doesn’t finish that sentence. The men below are hollering. Charlie wrestles the horses alone. Which to watch: the skittish horses on the hill or the dust up below. Charlie’s whispers calm the horses; the decision is made for me.
“What the hell is going on?” No one answers the big guy. Even I can see it’s a fight. A Tsimpsian is clocking a sparrow talker. The other sparrow talkers move to help. The Squamish men stop them. Everyone is yelling. “Wagon burner, savage, asshole
” They don’t like each other much. Makes me wonder about the sparrow talkers—why come halfway around the earth to live someplace if you don’t like the people? I’m just saying. The foreman sends the Tsimpsian and the Squamish guys to the other side of the midden. Not sure that’s gonna work, neither of them speak much Sparrow and they don’t speak each other’s language either.
Fun’s over, so I scurry across the shells. Behind me the crunch click, click, crunch of digging and rattling shells falling into wheelbarrows reminds me of the longhouse before the Sparrow talkers stopped the singing and dancing. The sound soothes. The land sounds lonesome without it. Don’t go there.
“Take her away,” the big guy shouts.
“Hey-ya,” Charlie hollers. I like this part. They all hey-ya and snap the hips of their horses with their riding crops in unison. I scamper onto the pile of shells in Charlie’s cart. The shells jiggle out a soft click, click, click; the horses’ hooves clop, clop as the carts roll forward. Sweet.
On the way I hear the whir of a saw. Men are felling the last of the giant cedars. Everything has changed. Village after village disappeared and sparrow dwellings and roads replaced them. The people never saw it coming. "We was inside this house when the surveyors come along and they chop the corner of our house when we was eating inside," Khahtsahlano said. Giant cedars and longhouses disappeared.
The sun spikes the trail with light, reminds me of Raven, shining the light on this place and creating shadow land. Charlie’s shoulders slump. I want to tell him it will be okay; even when someone hurts you, learn something. Don’t worry Charlie; it’s just a new story.
Just then the horse broke onto a field of grass with a white shell trail cutting through the meadow. Beyond the meadow, fish boats, herring punts, Suquamish ferries loading people up to take them to Seattle and sailboats bobbing in the water. The skipper has his passengers laughing before they get a chance to realize this ferry is heading into one deep sound, past some big-ass whales, some of them killers and at the bottom some very large octopuses. Nice.
Two men are nailing up a sign. I look at it. In Sparrow, it says:
“Stanley Park, named after John Stanley.
All races are welcome in this park.”
All races welcome, humph, good idea.
Lee Maracle is an acclaimed, award-winning poet, novelist, storyteller and anthologist. Her books include Sojourner’s and Sundogs, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, I Am Woman, and First Wives’ Club: Salish Style.
Photo credit: Columpa Bobb