|Birch Bark Plate
Richard L. Provencher
2002 by Richard L. Provencher
Uncle William has gone to be with Niskam. It was to his home I learned to have a family again. My parents no longer walked forest trails long ago. It happened when I was very small.
Now I am alone once more on this land. And my young heart wishes to find peace. There was a great weeping in uncle’s wigwam. At his funeral others shared stories from the days of his ancestors. About the animals he killed in many hunts. He was happy to have their brave spirits join with him. Then the festival of his passing into another place began.
His wigwam of birch bark was where years of my youth rested. Now he is gone away. And my wish is that I must now walk alone. A new spirit arises in my heart. And I gain wisdom as I seek a new home. The sun and moon are guides in my quest. Mother Earth is my protector.
I am Marten, a child in search of Glooscap. I need his strength and his love. I know I am a child who belongs to him.
After many days of walking, my legs ache as a tooth that pains me. At night my body shakes from hunger. I know you look down from your mountain on Cape Blomidon. I say believe in me. Come and be my father.
You say, child, show me how brave you can be. When I say I love you, you just smile. Show me your face, oh great Manitou. See my pain. Be my friend, if I cannot be your son.
The nicest thing we can do for each other is giving. And I have made this plate for you to eat upon. Braided around the top is sweet grass. It is stitched together with sinew, wet birch bark twisted. After making this plate I take it with me through the woods. My mother earth laughs. She knows I am just a child. I am no match for a mighty spirit like you, Glooscap. He will never have you for a son, she mocks.
I carry all things I need upon my shoulder. It is not a burden as I journey to your heart. The trail is full of long days, even as black flies bite. Wood is gathered, fire burns. Fish is boiled and meat roasted on coals. Food and drink is placed on the birch bark plate. And I wait here at my campsite.
Then I pray.
The medicine man comes with news. The village is pleased about my quest. But, they wish me to return, he says. Someone will care for me. But I scorn him. My father is Glooscap, I answer. A wish within my heart is for him to adopt me. I am Marten. I wish to become his son.
The medicine man is full of gladness before he leaves.
I face north to show respect. I bow to the creator and earth mother. Please accept my offerings and my prayers, I say. I bless myself and prepare to leave this sacred place. It is enough not to speak about my trials anymore. Then questions enter my mind. Did I do everything? Was it enough?
The medicine man returns, and tells me I should be happy. That the village understands. They share my pain. I say I will remember them. Smiles return from each of us. Hugs and kisses to everyone, I tell him. Saying goodbye to the medicine man is unpleasant. I continue my quest.
It seems to learn you must lose someone. First my parents did not return from the moose hunt. Then my uncle received a sickness that would not heal. He was so kind. His wigwam was warm with caring. I desired to remain there until I changed into a man. Then he was gone.
The sky became darkness without light.
My loss was so great. This heart had to bleed streams and rivers. To learn means to be in pain. To grow means a young boy must be tested. To heal means to look forward to the future.
I travel to the home of the beaver. Their place is called Five Islands. They are building a dam across the water to Cape Blomidon. And their hope is to conquer Glooscap. It is time for me to prove my bravery.
My hair is long. It is tied on two sides with cords of leather. The maple bow is strong and ready. Arrows tipped with bone are made of cedar. They are feathered with Eagle’s quills. I move toward the beaver colony, one boy against many. From a distance I know Glooscap is watching. I must make him proud of Marten.
But, instead of me fighting, today he is wise.
He chases the beaver away. His spirit is full of joy for someone so brave. After smashing their dam, Glooscap brings me with him. A boy is now taken to a home of protection, on Cape Blomidon.
Now I have found strength and love. I take the hand of my new father.
“HAU! HAU! HAU!” is Marten’s cry of joy.
Richard was born in Rouyn-Quebec, 400 miles NW of Montreal, Canada. He worked with Cree at James Bay, Ojibwa in Sarnia, Ontario and Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia. He lives with wife Esther in Truro, Nova Scotia.
Janice “White Feather”
Sack is a Mi’Kmaq native living in Parrsboro, NS. She requested Richard
write a story to honor her deceased husband.
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