Dene Soweh Reclaiming Our Youth Home Front School, Beauval Mission, Saskatchewan July/August, 2008 Report prepared by Laurie Edwards www.breathlines.org Between July 10 and August 10, 2008, with support from the Tides Foundation and under the aegis of Toronto-based Seeds of Hope Foundation, I shared my creative practice, breathlines, with teachers at Reclaiming Our Youth Homefront School at Beauval Mission on the English River First Nations reserve in northern Saskatchewan. This old photograph is of the grandparents of my host , Marius Paul, who, along with his wife, Candyce Paul, have pioneered a remarkable pedagogy. This pedagogy aims to reconnect disaffected Dene and Cree youth with the rich language and cultural heritage of their peoples. Marius' grandfather, respected by all who knew him, was a trapper and medicine man Marius' father, also a trapper, carried on the traditions of his forbears. He was said never to have closed a fist in anger. This photograph is of the former residential school in Beauval Mission. In the mid-nineties, the citizens of Beauval and nearby communities ransacked and demolished the old structure. Many people had painful memories of the school and how it separated Dene and Cree children from their language, their culture, and their spiritual being. Within two generations women lost the old stories of who was related to who in their clans. Many former students experienced post-traumatic stress and families were destroyed. Violence is common today. Many people on the reserve drink excessively and parents are often indifferent to the welfare of their children. Most residents of the country music community have forgotten their heritage. Television, the internet and country & western music are popular. There are few examples of collaboration in the cultivation of community, and there is resistance to positive initiatives such as the Homefront School. Here is the library of the demolished residential school. The Pauls managed to save these books. Gradually they are adding to the original collection books which tell the stories of their own people. However, funds are short. As elsewhere, television and the internet compete with books for the time and interest of young people. Some young fellows on the reserve imitate the hip hop styles popular in big cities. The Pauls carry on beading and other Dene crafts. The photograph above is a powow costume designed by Marius and beaded by Candyce Paul. Here is Marius squatting on the shore of La Plonge Lake. There are trout in this lake, pickerel, whitefish and red suckers. Back of the shore on which Marius squats there is a lodge run by a Metis couple. Although the lodge has a fine kitchen and most guests are indigenous, it is impossible to order fish there. A fifty thousand dollar fine would be the consequence of serving anything caught in the lake. Indigenous peoples are permitted to take what they want from the land, no matter the season, but they are not permitted to sell their catch to local businesses or to one another. . Since the local children were used to playing on the computers, practising music, and other activities in the Homefront School, we decided to turn the Pauls' back deck into a breathlines studio. This was a collaborative project, and considerably aided by Candyce's experience as an architectural technologist. Except for some excursions on the rivers and lakes in this region of the Churchill River Basin, my time was spent painting and teaching in the studio. The heart of the studio was the central square where we arranged significant objects. That's my Chinese ink brush in the middle. There's sage in the vase. A bowl of water. A tin of earth. Later the Pauls would replace my meditation square with one of their own. During the winter of 2007 I painted with Dene artist and writer Simon Paul. When I introduced breathlines to him, he said the practice had potential as an instrument of education and healing in the community where he was a boy. Thus it was that I was invited to spend a month with the Pauls in Beauval. In the photograph above, Simon is nearing completion of the black and white stage of a breathlines painting. The Pauls are a talented bunch. Here are Marius and Simon enjoying a musical interlude. At the Homefront School breathlines will be incorporated into the curriculum along with accompanying music. Breathlines painters begin with lines blindly laid down, the brush an extension of breath. The resulting template suggests stories that are teased from the initial tangle of breathlines. The next step is to perfect the black and white rendition of story. We didn't paint all the time. Here I am on a trip to set fishing nets. The next morning we retrieved from the depths of Laplonge several trout, one of which we cut into steaks, smoked and ate that evening. That's Fred Campbell at the rear. Fred teaches art and woodworking. In April next year he will bring a group of students with him to my studio on Gabriola Island, B.C. We also explored the endless rivers that flow through the Basin. This is Beaver River. Later I would go birdwatching on Waterhen River. On this river a companion shot a moose, which he dressed expertly. When he was done nothing was left of the moose but the lungs, which he placed in the crotch of a tree as an offering. In his canoe he transported nearly three thousand pounds of meat, and did not get back to Beauval until midnight. Children are the masters. Here are some painting. This little girl (bottom), who came with her grandmother from Laronge, whistled as she worked. Halfway through my stay, the Pauls replaced my usual meditation paraphernalia with cloth emblematic of the traditional medicine wheels, along with other artefacts of Dene culture. David Walsh, one of Deneh Soweh's funders, flew in from Toronto. That's him, back right. The other white guy in the back row is Father Robert, based in the Metis village of Beauval across the Beaver River from Beauval Mission. He blessed our mission and was blessed in return. Every morning we meditated. Before taking up our brushes one of us would read aloud the text in this photograph.* *Note: These words, provided to Marius Paul many years ago by an inspirational teacher, are not, as it turns out, Nelson Mandela's, but writer Marianne Williamson's (from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles) Our jerry-rigged studio was perfect, rain or shine. One day it hailed. The hail killed thousands of mosquitoes, and we were grateful for that. During my stay in Beauval Mission, we were visited by some extra-ordinary men and women who have dedicated themselves to activism on behalf of indigenous victims of the effects of uranium mining and the disposal of radioactive waste. These two, who live in Germany, are Gunter Wippel and his partner Gudrun Conrad. As in the Sahara, where uranium is mined intensely, it seems that what has been going on with this industry in Saskatchewan is not good. The waters are being contaminated, the land compromised, and people and animals horribly affected. The industry is secretive, as are the governments which regulate the businesses exploiting this resource. The young Simon Paul was a committed activist whose newspaper lost its government support because of its stand on uranium mining. Today Simon is suing the uranium company for appropriating as a logo one of his exquisite designs. This photograph is of Sally Milne, an elder who travelled from Laronge, and who, with the assistance of her partner, Lawrence Desjarlais, constructed a beautiful sweat lodge. Sally's two daughters died from cancer, which is epidemic in the region. The grandfathers and grandmothers showed her a way to survive her grief. Now she freely shares the sweat lodge ceremony. I participated in this ceremony. Sally said the membrane separating us from the real world is paper thin. During a sweat, the grandmothers and grandfathers pass through this membrane and for a brief time participants come face to face with their deepest selves. The experience was not comfortable, was in fact profoundly humbling. Nevertheless, I am grateful to Sally for guiding me into a place where everything is luminous with meaning, and where it is possible, if only briefly, to shed the delusions of pride and vanity. Breathlines paintings enable participants to discover stories which lie close to the heart. Here are the paintings we produced in Beauval, along with the text that emerged from meditations on the images. Captive Heart (Candyce Paul) The yellow sun calls to the captive heart which waits for kindness to relieve its suffering. Condor (Candyce Paul) Friends, old condor and woman share naked truths the heart can reveal. Caring Eyes (Simon Paul) Grandmother touches her grandchild With care, fondness and joy. Dressed in traditional ways Thinks of a soaring eagle Singing a soft tune And swings the sleeping babe Wrapped in sky blue Resting its head on soft pink of the dawn. The Holy Cross now hangs on her walls Her child Jesus who died for us all. She thinks now is the time To act for the future generations "Protect the earth. Today is a gift. Commit yourself to the Path os Goodness" Pulling Together (Marius Paul) Row on clouds Paddle the shimmer Peace, friends of azure water. Dip, catch fish in the lee of calm. The Floating World (Laurie Edwards) The floating world overlaps dark dreams, water prophecies. Golden fish swim between blue and green. It's foretold. A single jar bobs on the flood. My Family (Marius Paul) Child first, in moss bag. Sunny mirth in giggle. Bond with earthy green mighty turtle. Departure (Laurie Edwards) Night woe, sky fear-- moon jeans on candle road. Hope lights the way. Left Behind (Simon Paul) The final bee buzzes into a helmeted eagle Holding a Red Cross menu. It grins with pollenated glee As the ghostdancers flee. Kokopelli (Candyce Paul) Ancient ant spirit drums the way, the hopeful emergence from sand to sky. Water For Life (Simon Paul) Listen to the Thunder Bird whistle As your ears burn white And the rainbow colours heal your tears. Note: This painting originated in a template collectively laid down by Fr Robert of Beauval Village, elder Sally Milne and other visitors to the breathlines studio. Time To Move On (Laurie Edwards) Time to move on, friend. Carry me to the blue shore. We'll follow the birds. Release (Candyce Paul) Grandmother cradled, Life releases its final breath, Boy howls his love. Spirit of the River (Laurie Edwards) Adrift in the ancient stream a green canoe slides through stands of green. Rain speckles the silent surface, makes of the flow a spectacle of light. A solitary moose waits in the current. Paddles drip diamonds. The hunters aim fire, Paintings without poems...by children and sponsors. Finally we abandoned our wonderful studio, and inaugurated Reclaiming Our Youth Homefront School, where breathlines will become a core element of the curriculum and will also be shared with the community at large. Here are Marius and Candyce setting up canvas backdrops for the paintings. Here are visitors to the School's open house.