Sandra M’kwa pulled taut a long strand of sinew. Her weathered hands worked the strand intricately upon itself, round and round the hoop until there remained nothing but a short length. To this she added a single bone bead and tied off the end.
Outside her kitchen window, the sun was beginning to rise over the frozen river. On the table near her elbow, a delicate porcelain cup steamed with cedar tea. In the distance the sound of a snowmobile could be heard roaring somewhere down in the village. She sat back examining her new creation. The young willow branch represented the life that was lost. The intricate pattern of the sinew represented the many family members whose lives were never to be the same. The hole in the center represented the loss to the community. The bead was a reminder that the creator is always with us, at our center, keeping us strong until the day we can also journey to that distant land and be a family again.
She sipped her tea and a deep sense of sorrow flooded through her. Her granddaughter had left for university not more than four months ago. She was a bright, happy and amazingly intelligent young woman; Sandra remembered thinking that one day she would make a strong leader in the community. Four months. How could this happen in four short months?
A bluejay sang out shrilly in the maple tree, “Cree-Cree,Cree-Cree.”
When her grand daughter was young, they were walking along the river early one morning collecting medicine when a blue jay had landed on a nearby rock and began to pipe his song into the air for them, “Cree-Cree, Cree-Cree.” He almost seemed to dance on the rock as the sun began to pour it’s warm orange glow across the sleepy land. Her granddaughter had giggled and asked if the Blue Jay was doing a sun dance. She closed her eyes remembering the scene as she had reached down, stroked the child’s hair and said, “He’s reminding us who we are and that each day, we are to give thanks to the Creator for the sun’s rising.”
She got up to stir the fire in the big wood stove, then paused and gazed out the window. When her granddaughter was ten, her parents, Sandra’s own daughter, had died in a car accident, despite this, her spirit never waned. She was a strong one from the get-go that little girl, she had the spirit of a true warrior within her. They’d mourned together and made offerings to the spirit world on the anniversary of her parents passing each and every year since. This year there would be a new ceremony to add.
The papers hadn’t covered the story but for a small blurb about a missing student in the local – just another “indian” who’d gotten herself into trouble was the general consensus in the city. The comments section online were filled with vile and hateful statements, stereotypes…one person even had the gall to suggest that she’d asked for what happened to her. If only they’d known her. If only they could see the room light up when she entered. If only they could have felt the strength that emanated all around her being. If only they cared to see her room, her academic awards hanging with pride, her sport medals, the eagle feather given to her by the community upon graduation. She was not a lost soul, she was a soul on a journey, she was a leader, she was a woman who carried within her so much promise. She was 18 years old.
Her body was found battered and savagely beaten in a ravine not far from the University. The soft spoken doctor at the city hospital had said she was raped with a sharp metal instrument. There was no one under arrest yet. Her beautiful teeth were shattered, her face swollen to twice it’s normal size. As if it were some consolation, the doctor patted Sandra’s shoulder and said, “Her death was quick, she didn’t suffer.” She remembered turning to him and screaming in anguish, “SHE DIDN’T SUFFER!? LOOK AT HER! HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!? YOU DON’T KNOW!!! YOU WEREN’T THERE!!!” Her brother grabbed her then and wrapped her in his strong embrace as she collapsed against him wailing for another lost daughter.
They held a vigil for her at the University and Sandra was invited to attend. There were many young women there and a handful of young men, holding hands, lighting candles, crying. One young man had approached Sandra just as the crowd was breaking up, “Uh, Mrs. M’kwa, I’m so sorry for your loss. I didn’t know her but I was walking the path that day after class,uh, the day she went missing. I remember looking behind me and seeing her coming across the field just before the woods. I’m sorry. I should have waited. I didn’t know….” He began to sob. A perfect stranger and he was sobbing because he felt that her death was his fault. “I should have waited for her….” She reached out and hugged him tightly. She stoked his hair as he wept and whispered to him, “Her fate was not in your hands, nor was it in mine. It will never be your fault what happened to her.”
There was a steady line of young tear-stained faces, words meant to comfort, friends who were devastated, numb and in shock. Her light had touched so many, crossing borders, cultures and miles in just a few short months. This was the type of woman she was. This was the leader she was destined to be.
Sandra turned and sat down at the table again. She picked a hawk feather from the pile she’d collected. The hawk flew freely watching over the land, a protector. She affixed the feathers to the bottom of the dreamcatcher. The final feather was a special one, much smaller but unmistakable in it’s iridescent blue. This one had been left as if especially for her on the stoop just the other morning.
At the window came a tap-tap-tap. She glanced over and there on the sill was the Blue Jay. He turned his head quizzically looking in at her and began to dance.
She smiled and whispered,
“Hello, grand daughter. It is so nice to see you again, it brings relief to my heart. You have come home, you are not lost. We shall spend our time together forever now each day when the sun rises.”
Although this story is fiction, the heartbreak within it is one that is played out in many First Nation communities across Canada with alarming frequency. As a student in University walking home one evening along the river, I spied a young woman just starting to cross the field behind me. The next day, I discovered that young woman had been brutally raped and left for dead on the wooded section of that same path I had walked just minutes before. My saving grace was the distance between myself and some other students just ahead of me, or I too could have ended up in the statistics of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women In Canada. No woman’s life is worthless, women are our life-givers, our caregivers and our sacred teachers. Please make a stand, speak out and help put an end to the tragic narrative that seems to repeat all too frequently in this country. Justice for our missing sisters.
(As always, I’m open to constructive critique from my fellow writers.)