Happy Canada Day! It was two years ago on this day that we arrived in Ottawa, Ontario Province, the capitol of Canada, to experience a Canadian “birthday” celebration in their nation’s capitol. It was like being in Washington, DC, on the 4th of July–only that year it was “over the top” because Kate and William, newly married that April, were making their inaugural trip to Canada. There were over 100,000 people “on the hill” in front of the parliament building that day. Huge jumbotrons were in place throughout the area so that the other 50,000 people who were in the city that day and who couldn’t fit onto the hill to witness the celebrations, the speeches, the music and dance, could still see the main stage performances. Security personnel perched on the rooftops of buildings. Hats of all kinds adorned the heads of the partying crowd. It was loud, colorful, raucous and fun.
This Canada day we arrived in Teslin (pronounced tez-lynn), Yukon Province, Canada. We are in Tlingit (Kling-git) Nation country. And our surroundings could not be more different from 2 years ago.
Surrounded by rolling hills and magnificent mountains adorned with spruce, alder, poplar, aspen, lodgepole and cottonwood trees, we sit amongst them, breathing in the newly-rinsed fresh air of a land unspoiled by concrete and steel. We sit amongst a people who are reclaiming their land, their traditions, their pride. From a 1973 land claim agreement with the Canadian government (Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), they have been reestablishing their claim to land, rights to live self-determined by their traditions and laws, and open to celebrating again their thanks to the “Man Above” who grants life to them and all that surround them.
We visited the Tlingit Heritage Center today. After visiting their small museum exhibits, we wandered down to a large room where a table was set up with projects in various stages of completion: gloves made out of moose hide with beaver trim that reached up to my elbow when on my hand; moccasins; beading. Stunning, to say the least. Pauline, a Tlingit First Nation person, was sitting at an adjacent table. Inquiring minds want to know–and so the questions started and lessons in First Nation people began.
“Pauline,” I asked, “what kind of hide are these gloves made of?”
“Moose hide–like that on the chair,” she answered.
Now, I have to say, the piece of stuff on the chair looked like distorted, thin, hard cardboard. There was no way that was the same material that those soft, supple gloves were made of.
And so, Pauline told us how moose hide is prepared for the making of clothes. In short, it takes a year. Frankly, I’m not content to wait a year for new clothes…but then, that’s what this trip is about–slowing down, being patient, taking time. Anyway–there is the removal of the fur, the drawing off of the flesh, the salt water immersion to remove all remaining blood and fluid, the washing, the stretching and drying, the rubbing of the hide to soften it, the smoking of the hide to color it. She showed us the difference between factory tanned hides and the hide that has been tanned by the Tlingit. Different? You bet. In texture, smell, color–just about every aspect. I don’t know how you put a price on this kind of work.
She spoke of the clans of the Tlingit Nation–Raven and Eagle (air), Frog and Split-tailed Beaver (water), and Wolf (land)–all representative of the elements of nature that provide for them. Theirs is a people in touch with the land and the synergy between them.
We spent over an hour with Pauline and I was sorry we had to leave–although I needed to leave. I always get these feelings of wondering about how I am in touch with nature, with God, with the people in my “tribe”–it’s a question I wrestle with frequently and never quite answer satisfactorily.
Mostly I’m taken with how they spend their time in caring for each other and the environment around them. The concrete, asphalt and steel that surrounds me in my life does not lend itself to being aware of, much less in touch with, that which seems to matter most.
This July 1, this Canada Day, there are no crowds, no jumbotrons, to hundreds of thousands of people. Instead,
I see trees of green….pink roses too
I see them bloom for me and for you
And I think to myself: What a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue…clouds of white
Bright blessed days…dark sacred nights
And I think to myself: What a wonderful world.
The colors of a rainbow…so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really saying, “I love you.”
I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself …….what a wonderful world.
Thanks Louis Armstrong, George David Weiss, George Douglas, Bob Thiele, and especially Pauline.