Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Fit Farewell For Fontaine!

“Hey Angus, how are ya? Got your message to call but been quite busy with all what Chiefs do” Charlie said.
“Hey, Charlie, brother, thanks for calling back.” I said.
“Just wondering about what you think of my idea of perhaps doing a small sculpture of some kind for any significant ones at the upcoming National Assembly.”

Charles (Charlie) Weaselhead is the Grand Chief of Treaty Seven in Alberta and is a very close friend of mine. He and I first met in 1999 when we were Board members on the Aboriginal Healing Foundation; the foundation mandated to address the legacy of physical and sexual abuses in the former residential school system. I was an appointed Inuit member while Charlie was one of the 12 First Nation members of the 17 member Board. Anyway, we both resigned in 2004 for different reasons. Charlie moved on to become Chief of the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta and now was to host the 30th Annual General Assembly of First Nations to be held in Calgary, July 20th – 23rd, 2009. An event that included the need to vote for a new National Chief.
As an artist, I saw this as an opportunity to perhaps make a gift or two for a dignitary or two as is custom with this kind of event. And why not use my contact and good friend, Charlie.

            “Angus, I’ve informed Ryan Robb, our Executive Director of the Treaty Seven Management Corporation, of your idea and let him know you will contact him very soon.
            “Ok, brother, I’ll do that tomorrow first thing as I have his phone number and email address. Will be good to see you again soon. Take care.” I then hung up the phone.

Next day, I walked into the office of the Treaty Seven Management Corporation. A dark-haired man was sitting in the foyer; looked at me and seemed to know who I was.
            “You must be Angus!”
            “Yipe.” I conferred and smiled as I shook hands with Ryan Robb.
            “Let’s go upstairs to my office. Charlie said you may have something to show me.”
            “As a matter of fact, yes,” I said as we both walked up the stairs.
            “I thought since the buffalo is one of the symbols of First Nations, why not make a small buffalo to have presented to someone at the upcoming General Assembly.”

I pulled out the small buffalo made out of white stone from southern British Columbia. Ryan liked it and we chit-chatted for a few minutes when Chief Reg Crowshoe of the Piikani First Nation in southern Alberta walked into the office. Chief Reg recognized me from previous meetings and we shook hands. Out of respect, Ryan wanted Reg’s take on the white buffalo and its appropriateness as a gift to Blackfoot First Nation members or any other First Nations for that matter. In my ignorance, I thought a white buffalo was sacred to all First Nations but Chief Reg described otherwise and in the end he said,
            “The white buffalo may be more symbolic to the Stoney Indians just west of Calgary.”

Ryan and I looked at each other and nodded, both glad, of course, to have the issue clarified. Ryan went on to say,
            “Ok, why not make a buffalo out of a darker stone and include some text to commemorate the years of service to our out-going National Chief Phil Fontaine. Chief Charles Weaselhead can present that to him at the opening night ceremonies July 20th. Let’s settle on the price and go from there.”
After a few minutes discussion, I said,
            “Excellent, I’ll get right on the project and have it ready in time to have Chief Charles Weaselhead present it to Phil Fontaine.”

Sculpture made of soapstone presented to outgoing National Chief Phil Fontaine
at the 30th Annual General Assembly of First Nations in Calgary, July, 2009.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Able, Agile, Athletic Aboriginals!!

CANADA's OLYMPIC TEAM - All Aboriginal?


Throughout Canada's history, there have been a number of experiments done on aboriginal people. For example, in the early 1970's, a group of Inuit boys from Northern Quebec were sent to Ottawa to see how they would cope in an urban setting. Another experiment took place in BC where a group of First Nations children were given candy to simply see how their teeth would react without brushing. Guess how that one resulted?


While most experiments turned out negative, a much more positive experiment took place in the late sixties in the Western Arctic. A Catholic priest in Inuvik, NT had noticed how strong and agile the aboriginal people were when they were hunting and gathering on the land. As a former cross-country ski racer, the priest had proposed a program called, "Territorial Experimental Ski Training" (TEST) program and secured funding from the government. Furthermore,  the perfect venue to develop talented kids was there in the former residential school where 400 Inuit, Metis, and First Nations students were residing. A Norwegian coach was then hired. Like they say, "the rest is history."


Fred Kelly, "the Kelly Express."

The boys and girls picked to train and race quickly made an impact nationally and internationally. Fred Kelly, known as the "Kelly Express" won the men's 1968 national junior championships and the likes of a Roger Allen, Rex Cockney, Ernie Lennie, Bert Bullock combined to win individual and relay races across North America. The team also toured Europe where they not only made an impact racing against skiing nations but were somewhat of an attraction being referred to as "Indians and Eskimos on skis."


Their success resulted in six of the nine members representing Canada at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics were aboriginal. Not bad for skiing just a few years. Likely the most famous of that team were the Firth Twins, Sharon and Shirley. For two decades they dominated the Canadian women's cross-country skiing scene. From 1972 to 1984 they represented Canada in four consecutive Winter Olympics; a streak only equaled by speed skating legend Gaetan Boucher. To accomplish that remarkable feat, they overcame prejudice, sickness, despair and rejection.  For Shirley the 1972 Olympic dream almost didn't become a reality. Just before Sapporo, she came down with hepatitis. The disease almost took her life. Shirley overcame the disease and made it to Sapporo. But she was just too weak to be competitive. Sharon finished a Canadian-best 24th overall. It was a solid result for a team that had only been skiing for a few years.


TEST Skiers with former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau

Although the experiment with those aboriginal athletes was deemed a success, the funding was cut, just when a second generation of hopefuls were beginning to show promise. Just goes to show that Aboriginal people do have ability....too bad given their current social and political situation, they lack opportunity.