When the sun hides from us

By Fr. Joe Curcio, SFM
September 2000

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Around 1993 in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, I met a Cree elder who had lived 100 years. There was a plan to assemble all his relatives and friends in the area to celebrate his birthday at the Friendship Centre. I participated at the celebration by listening and joining the circle dance. Not long after, the elder became very ill and left the reservation to be cared for in the town hospital. I visited his grandson Harvey and asked for an interview with his grandfather. I also asked if it would be proper to offer his grandfather a pouch of tobacco, according to the Cree tradition. He agreed but warned me that his grandfather spoke only Cree.

Harvey helped his grandfather to the large chair in his hospital room. We sat facing him. With a smile, I offered the tobacco and told him who I was. Harvey translated. His grandfather told me with a slight smile and nod that he knew me. “Tell me about your experience as a child. Where have you lived?” I asked.

The response was enthusiastic. He had lived in the bush and on the reserve. On one occasion, he lived a short while in a city. I asked him for some detail about city life. He gave the sign “No,” indicating that it was a bad experience. I waited for an explanation.

“I saw my son lost,” he said. “He did not really know where he was nor who he was. He tried to be an Indian in the city, but he was like a broken arrow. He tried to be a white man in the city, but he was simply a bow without a string. He failed. My son failed. I was broken hearted to see him and his family in the city. He took money from the government like a child who seeks help from his parents. He was finally overtaken by addictions.”

Filled with sorrow the elder left the city, a place where his son could not cope.

He added this final note: “To whom shall we go or who shall we be when the wind brings sickness, when the water is no longer able to cool and heal us, when the sun hides from us for what we are doing? Has my grandson here reason to honour me or to curse me for what I will leave behind? Even the animals, which long ago were gifts of Manitou, now cry out to us to save them. Indians and white people have lost their sense of worth. The whole world is hurting. I leave it with sadness!”

Fr. Joe Curcio is a retired Scarboro missionary who worked in Native ministry in the Diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in the early 1990s.

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