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pupdate: first run on the beach, and puppies in love

We had been waiting to take Cookie for a run at the beach -- waiting until she was more bonded with us, until she had a bit of training, until she seemed to understand that we five are a family. There are no enclosed dog parks near us -- or, to my knowledge, anywhere north of Campbell River. There's a baseball field and a schoolyard nearby, but both too near the road for comfort. We knew that at some point, we'd have to make a leap and hope for the best. Today was that day.

First we let the dogs loose on a semi-enclosed field near the beach. It was the first time the Kai and Cookie have really had room to run at full speed together. It was a sight! They were flying. We practiced some recall, trying to give Cookie the idea, then we went over to the beach itself.

Diego does not appear to feel sad or left out. He also doesn't try to run after the littles or keep up at all. The beach is still his favourite place, and he's still super excited to go. He seems to enjoy it on his terms.

It breaks my heart a little bit to see Diego so slow and mellow. It wasn't long ago (was it?) he was running like a maniac at Cherry Beach. But I remind myself that every day with him healthy and walking is a gift. He's enjoying his life, and that's all we can ask.

It was a little scary, and I wondered if we would ever see Cookie again. Both Cookie and Kai ran and ran and ran, mostly circling back to us when we called them. Then at one point Kai circled back and Cookie continued trotting away. Allan went off to follow her, so far down the beach I really couldn't see her any more.

Unfortunately I had all three leashes -- and the treats! Allan took a long walk, but eventually he shepherded Cookie in the right direction.

Here's a random heron for you.

Back at home, we are reaping the payoff of the well-exercised dog: the quiet. How quiet? They actually went into the same crate! That's Kai's empty crate beside them. We have never seen this before.

I also think that Cookie is beginning to calm down. She's a young, very active dog, no doubt. But she must have been extra hyper from the stress of abandonment and rescue. Tala was the same way -- when she was stressed, she flipped to a higher speed. I think something just clicked inside Cookie. She knows she's safe and can relax.

There's still nearly constant playing and running and crazy. But we're beginning to see moments like this, too.


five rules of small-town life

There is not one traffic light
in any town north of Campbell River.
1. Don't be in a rush.

Everything takes time. Everyone has time. You have time, too. You might have to wait while people finish chatting. No matter. You have time.

2. Don't try to make plans.

People stop by. They want you to stop by. Or you can wait for them to come 'round. They will.

3. Don't be too picky.

Everything you need is here. It might not be exactly what you had in mind, but does the difference really matter? If it does, there's the internet, and you can wait. But generally you have a few choices. That's enough.

4. Don't say too much.

People will ask. They are genuinely interested. Share a story. They will genuinely appreciate it. No need to go on at length. A short story will do. Don't say more than you want to, because whatever you say, everyone will know.

5. Don't talk about other people.

Everyone knows each other.

* * * *

The small-town norm that is most divergent with big-city life, in my view, is about stopping by. In cities, you never stop by. It would be an intrusion. It's considered disrespectful of other people's time. Even trying to plan one week ahead can cause resentment.

I'm not saying that no one in our small town makes advance plans. Certainly professionals plan ahead, make appointments, have meetings. If I'm planning a visit to one of my libraries in another town, I give people a heads-up, so we can meet if they're available.

But stopping by is expected. It's welcomed. It's considered friendly.


At Your Library: What Should Your Child Read?

"All my son wants to read are comics!"

"I don't approve of those zombie or vampire books. Kids should read something more uplifting and educational."

"Do comic books count as reading?"

"My daughter reads those 'world record' books. I want her to read nice stories."

At the library, we hear these questions all the time from parents and caregivers asking about their children's reading habits.

Maybe you are a parent or grandparent who finds choosing reading material for your child difficult, confusing, or overwhelming.

We're here to help.

If the question is "What should my child read?", the short answer is: what they like. If your child enjoys what they're reading, they will read more – and reading more is what we want. It almost doesn't matter what they read, as long as they enjoy it.

Of course, we want books to be appropriate for a child's age. There's a right time and a wrong time for children to learn about certain ideas.

But other than that, kids and teens should read what they like. Comics, magazines, fact books – they all "count". If your child finds a book or magazine interesting and absorbing – if they enjoy reading it – then it's good to read.

Comics are a great way to improve reading skills. Reading comics also helps develop something called "visual literacy" – the ability to find information through images. Our world is increasingly visual, so reading comics helps your child learn about the world.

Graphic novels, which are books written in comics form, can be about any subject, including important and serious topics. They are written and illustrated by top writers and artists. They're considered an important form of writing. If your child enjoys reading comics and graphic novels, we can help you find many wonderful choices.

Nonfiction is a great way to improve reading skills and to learn about the world. And you know what? So is fiction. Some people love to read facts and information. Some people love to read stories with interesting characters. And some people (like me) enjoy both. Neither is "better" than the other.

Wizards, dragons, zombies, and vampires are just a few of the fantasy characters your children may meet in books. Life lessons are found in all kinds of stories, including adventure, fantasy, and science fiction. Stories about courage, compassion, inner strength, empathy – all the things we want our children to have – are valuable, whether the characters are from this world or a make-believe world.

If your child doesn't like to read, chances are they haven't found the right book – yet. At the library, we love helping children find books they enjoy, so they can reap the benefits of being a lifelong reader. Come on in and find out.


in which we become homeowners?!

We are buying a house!

The list of things we said we'd never do is really beginning to pile up! An SUV, a third dog, and now this.

All our lives -- until now -- renting was the only thing that made sense. The price of real estate in NYC and the Toronto area is nuts. Purchasing a home would have meant tripling (or more) our monthly housing costs, or having a two-hour (each way) commute, or buying a condo. None of those options were appealing. We also didn't want the responsibility of home ownership. We simply didn't care about owning.

But the landscape has changed. We live in a place where homes are affordable, and where the tenancy laws for families with animals make renting very insecure. We have moved too many times in the last 10 years, and as we plan for our older age, this gives us more security.

We originally thought we'd purchase the house we're renting, thinking the selling price would be low enough that we could renovate. Fortunately the owner wasn't interested, which led us to the real estate market, which led us to a beautiful house at an amazing price. We live in the last bit of affordable real estate on the west coast.

There weren't many houses to see in our price range. There are lots of fixer-uppers and a few townhouses -- not for us. And there are extremely expensive vacation/retirement properties -- also not for us. In the middle in our town? Four houses. Two we ruled out right away. And the other two, we disagreed on.

One house had my dream kitchen, with a large, loft-style living area looking out on an unbelievable view of bay and mountains, directly across the street. The yard would need fencing and work, but I was willing. The downside: a 30-minute drive each way, not just to work but to any town at all. No grocery store, drugstore, nothing. I work in town, so I volunteered to do all the shopping.

The other house was in town, walking distance to work (as we are now), with a nice kitchen, an amazing covered deck and a landscaped, fully fenced yard, plus everything else we were looking for.

But I couldn't let go of that dream kitchen and view. View and kitchen vs. deck and yard. We could not agree.

I slept on it.

I woke up realizing that driving 30 minutes each way, day in and day out, week after month after year, in all weather, would get very tiring and very expensive. At current prices, it would cost us about $350 per month in gas. And there would never be an option of just popping out to get something or go out for dinner -- everything is at least 30 minutes away.

I reluctantly said goodbye to dream kitchen and dream view. Allan was in love with the deck and yard house and was thrilled that I changed my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I knew it was the right choice.

We made an offer with a few conditions. The sellers accepted. And yesterday we were approved for a mortgage.

Here we go!


pupdate: two kids and a bemused senior

This action photography is brought to you by Allan.

Don't worry, we are not neglecting Diego. I just didn't have any good shots of him, and I wanted to get this post up.

Kai and Cookie are little devils. Kai has gotten out of the yard three times in the last four days. One minute she's in the yard, and then she's in the street. We've got ourselves a jumper. We haven't seen her do it, but it's the only way out. We're working on it.

We've known that new dogs learn from the rest of the pack. But we didn't expect it to work the other way! Cookie is not fully housetrained. Kai saw this and thought, Hey, I didn't know we were allowed to do that in here! Cool! Yup. Multiple gifts from multiple dogs.

Yesterday Cookie was running around with one of my shoes -- holding the very tip of the shoelace in her mouth with the shoe dangling just above the floor. She thought dancing away from Mommy was a great game. That was after Kai helped her steal and eat some donuts Allan had in his office.

You can have three dogs, they said. It will be fun, they said.

Ah well. Time and patience are required. We have both.

For the most part, though, Cookie has settled in and is learning fast. Kai, no longer the baby, is suddenly calm and mature (except when she's not). Diego's staples were removed, he's walking, and sometimes playing with the Littles. Mostly he looks on, bemused.

Cookie worships Diego. I haven't been able to capture it yet, but she does this thing that an omega wolf will do to the alpha wolf. While Diego is standing up, Cookie lowers herself and licks the underside of Diego's snout. (It looks like this.)

This morning when I took Cookie out -- the Littles go first, Diego prefers to wait -- Diego was up and moving around. Cookie was torn between going outside and attending to Diego. I had to put her leash on and practically drag her outside.

We've seen pack behaviour in our dogs before, but I've never seen adoration on this level. Diego reacts as dogs do: he allows Cookie to worship him. If he's resting and doesn't want to be disturbed, he will show his teeth and growl at either of his sisters.


abortion without apology: the war on women, the slippery slope, and how you can fight back

Tl;dr? Learn about the National Network of Abortion Funds, and give generously.

* * * *

Right-thinking Americans and Canadians are reeling at extreme anti-abortion laws sweeping through at least a dozen states: Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia, are the worst offenders, but Ohio, North Dakota, Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, and others are not far behind. Most of these laws are blatantly unconstitutional, and are designed to force SCOTUS to overturn with Roe v. Wade.

These latest lethal weapons are the logical progression of the War on Women that's been going on for at least 30 years. Democrats and most liberal Americans sat idly by while anti-abortion-rights forces took over one state legislature after the next, setting up obstacle after obstacle designed to prevent access to safe, legal abortion, thereby limiting the human rights of great swaths of American women.

While all anyone could talk about was Roe v. Wade, that poorly-written law became irrelevant for millions of women. American women in all states technically had the right to obtain an abortion, just as African Americans technically had the right to vote in 1957 Mississippi. Rights without access are meaningless.

How does the right to abortion become meaningless?

Parental consent, parental notification, spousal notification, mandatory counseling, mandatory waiting periods, prohibitions against funding, prohibitions against private insurance coverage, mandatory multiple visits, mandatory hospital stays, gestational limits, practitioner refusals, disinformation about medical consequences -- all this has been going on, all over the country. In 2005 I wrote that Roe was meaningless, and it's not like I was prescient.

Of course we should be outraged by the laws recently passed in Alabama and elsewhere, but we shouldn't be at all surprised, and surely not shocked.

And of course we should be outraged at the Republicans passing these laws, but if you're not equally outraged at the Democrats, you have a lot to answer for.

One of the very best things I've seen written about this is by Rebecca Traister, writing in The Cut: "Our Fury Over Abortion Was Dismissed for Decades As Hysterical".
I have been thinking, like so many people this week, about rage. Who I’m mad at, what that anger’s good for, how what makes me maddest is the way the madness has long gone unrespected, even by those who have relied on it for their gains.

For as long as I have been a cogent adult, and actually before that, I have watched people devote their lives, their furious energies, to fighting against the steady, merciless, punitive erosion of reproductive rights. And I have watched as politicians — not just on the right, but members of my own party — and the writers and pundits who cover them, treat reproductive rights and justice advocates as if they were fantasists enacting dystopian fiction.

This week, the most aggressive abortion bans since Roe v. Wade swept through states, explicitly designed to challenge and ultimately reverse Roe at the Supreme Court level. With them has come the dawning of a broad realization — a clear, bright, detailed vision of what’s at stake, and what’s ahead. (If not, yet, full comprehension of the harm that has already been done).

As it comes into view, I am of course livid at the Republican Party that has been working toward this for decades. These right-wing ghouls — who fulminate idiotically about how women could still be allowed to get abortions before they know they are pregnant (Alabama’s Clyde Chambliss) or try to legislate the medically impossible removal of ectopic pregnancy and reimplantation into the uterus (Ohio’s John Becker) — are the stuff of unimaginably gothic horror. Ever since Roe was decided in 1973, conservatives have been laboring to roll back abortion access, with absolutely zero knowledge of or interest in how reproduction works. And all the while, those who have been trying to sound the alarm have been shooed off as silly hysterics.

Which is why I am almost as mad at many on the left, theoretically on the side of reproductive rights and justice, who have refused, somehow, to see this coming or act aggressively to forestall it. I have no small amount of rage stored for those in the Democratic Party who have relied on the engaged fury of voters committed to reproductive autonomy to elect them, at the same time that they have treated the efforts of activists trying to stave off this future as inconvenient irritants.

This includes, of course, the Democrats (notably Joe Biden) who long supported the Hyde Amendment, the legislative rider that has barred the use of federal insurance programs from paying for abortion, making reproductive health care inaccessible to poor women since 1976. During health-care reform, Barack Obama referred to Hyde as a “tradition” and questions of abortion access as “a distraction.” I’ve spent my life listening to Democrats call abortion a niche issue — and worse, one that is somehow repellent to voters, even though support for Roe is in fact among the most broadly popular positions of the Democratic Party; seven in ten Americans want abortion to remain legal, even in conservative states.

You can try to tell these Democrats this — lots of people have been trying to tell them for a while now — but it won’t matter; they will only explain to you (a furious person) that they (calm, wise, knowledgeable about politics) understand that we need a big tent and can’t have a litmus test and please be reasonable: we shouldn’t shut anyone out because of a difference on one issue. (That one issue that we shouldn’t shut people out because of is always abortion). Every single time Democrats come up with a new strategy to win purple and red areas, it is the same strategy: hey, let’s jettison abortion! (If you object to this, you will be told you are standing in the way of the greater progressive project).
There is actually some good news on this front, as the anger over Trump spurred activism in the US.  Traister:
And at the end of 2018, the Guttmacher Institute reported that 2018 was the first year since at least 2000 in which the number of state policies enacted to expand or protect abortion rights and access, and contraceptive access, outnumbered the number of state restrictions. Why? Because growing realization of what was at stake — and resulting anger and activism, pressure applied to state legislatures — led representatives to act.
If this extreme anti-woman movement disgusts and offends you, if you understand that abortion rights are human rights, if you understand that women's freedom, dignity, and personhood are at stake, please get involved. You are very late to the fight -- but not too late.

For my money, I'd leave lobbying to the organizations with the resources to do it best, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. Donate to those groups, of course. But I believe it's more important (or at least equally important) to help individual women exercise their constitutional rights and their human rights. To do that, the National Network of Abortion Funds (N-NAF) is the place to start. Join. Give. Organize.

* * * *

In Canada, whenever some Conservative raises the abortion issue by stealth, claiming to care about women or babies, make noise. These threats to our rights come up periodically, as politicians test the waters, taking the temperature of the Canadian appetite for an abortion debate. It's our job to shut that shit down.


listening to joni: #8: hejira

Hejira, 1976

Front Cover
Photo by Norman Seeff; Frozen lake by Wisconsin.
Hejira snuck up on me.

I heard it was "wordy," "cold," and "cerebral" and that the music was "abstract". I didn't know what that meant, but it didn't seem good.

On the radio station I listened to as a teenager, one of the last holdouts of independent rock radio, "Song for Sharon" had heavy rotation. That's no surprise, as it's a thoroughly New York City song. I would hear it in the background, when I was driving or doing homework, and catch bits of lyrics: Staten Island, skyline, Bleecker Street, "eighteen bucks went up in smoke".

Then there was a video. No idea how or where I saw that, as MTV was still several years in the future, but the video of "Amelia" caught my imagination. Amelia Earhart is a lifelong fascination of mine; even at that age, I had a crush on her. Now it seemed that Joni, fascination numero uno, was also drawn to Earhart.

And then there was Joni's appearance in The Last Waltz. Both the movie and the music from The Last Waltz are indelibly important to me. At that "farewell" concert, Joni sang "Coyote". I didn't know the song yet, and I was... well, fascinated. (Before the song, Joni greets Robbie Robertson with a kiss... and a certain bell went off in my head. An a-ha moment in my life.)

Over time -- years and years -- I heard more and more from Hejira, and I grew to love it deeply. I have to be in the mood for it, of course. I liken it to Elvis Costello's album Blood and Chocolate -- very dense lyrically, a certain musical sameness to all the songs, incredible songwriting, and quirky. You have to be in the mood for a lot of words.

Image: Curtis Collects Vinyl
Skater: Toller Cranston
The story of how Joni wrote these songs is legendary among Joni fans, and it's difficult to say what really happened and what was embellished. You can read one version here on Wikipedia; another version is on the Joni Mitchell website from Uncut magazine.

More important to me is the deeply personal nature of these songs. We always hear that Blue is so deeply personal, how Joni bared her soul for that album. But the songs on Blue still tell stories that are also universal, or at least relateable for many people. The songs on Hejira are about a life that most listeners have not experienced -- a life on and of the road. In these songs, the road is both sanctuary and addiction. It's a place to hide and a route to self-discovery. If you think of your life as a journey, then the road can serve as metaphor. But for Joni, the road was both metaphor and reality.

As before, musical themes that were present on a previous record become dominant here. I wrote about the lack of instrument melody on Hissing -- that the melody is conveyed only by voice, and the music is rhythm only. On Hejira, Joni's guitar and the fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius form a kind of sprawling background rhythm, which Joni sings over.

This was the first time Joni worked with the legendary Pastorius. They formed a deep musical connection, and were very close friends until Jaco's terrible death in 1987.

I mentioned that I have to be in the mood to listen to Hejira. That is partly because I find the songs almost too sad to bear, especially "Amelia".
People will tell you where they've gone
They'll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know
Where some have found their paradise
Others just come to harm
Oh, Amelia it was just a false alarm

I wish that he was here tonight
It's so hard to obey
His sad request of me to kindly stay away
So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell Amelia it was just a false alarm
Where some have found their paradise, others just come to harm is sung with such pathos. You can hear regret, and longing, and tremendous sadness, and also acceptance. Now Joni has found what might be a paradise, but it is so cursed and charmed, that the man must beseech her to leave him alone.

And this cursed and charmed relationship hurts so much, it causes Joni to doubt all her past loves, too.
Maybe I've never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia it was just a false alarm
Joni has "a dream to fly", but can only sleep on the "strange pillows of [her] wanderlust". The best songs on Hejira -- "Amelia," "Coyote," "Refuge of the Roads," and "Song for Sharon" --- are all about the love-vs-freedom conflict. This time out, it's a very sad tale.

"Furry Sings the Blues," about the dead remains of Beale Street, is also very good. The remaining songs are good, but second-tier for this album.

Bad critic comment of the album

Hejira received mixed reviews, and has since been called "an underappreciated masterpiece" by more than one writer. It's not surprising, though, that the big places that mattered most in terms of sales all hated it.

There are quite a few bad critic comments to choose from for this one. My picks for worst are tied: either this from the Village Voice --
Despite Joni Mitchell's reputation as a lyricist, the poetic element in her work has been a growing source of embarrassment to many listeners over the years. Less a measure of ignorance than of optimism, Mitchell's verbal pretensions are a product of her innocence -- an innocence that seems unwarranted by the crushed hopes her songs discern in everything from urban blight and stardom to motherhood and love.
-- or Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone, who dismisses the album in less than 150 words.

The album cover

Apparently some people find the photo of Joni on the front cover of Hejira pretentious. To me it's Joni as we find her: smoking, wearing a beret, looking at us with somber directness. The road is literally running through her.

The photo was taken by the South African-born photographer Norman Seeff. The background is a frozen lake in Wisconsin. On the Joni website, there are two articles from Wisconsin sources about this.

Many Joni fans have seen some of the photos of Joni skating in her black-crow garb, that were ultimately not used for the album cover. The skater on the inside cover is Toller Cranston, a Canadian Olympic figure skater.

The story of the album cover is here.

Cacti or stockings?

In "Amelia," Joni drives across the desert, then "pulled into the Cactus Tree Motel to shower off the dust".

In "Song for Sharon," Joni remembers skating, wearing "mama's nylons underneath my cowgirl jeans".

Other musicians on this album

Bass, Max Bennett
Bass, Chuck Domanico
Bass, Jaco Pastorius
Clarinet, Abe Most
Drums, John Guerin
Guitar, Larry Carlton
Harmonica, Neil Young
Horns, Chuck Findley
Horns, Tom Scott
Percussion, Bobbye Hall
Vibes, Victor Feldman

the north island report: alert bay, eagles, and our first ontario visitors (photos to follow)

When we moved to Port Hardy, I was sure that none of our Ontario friends would ever visit. It's so far away, and not an easy place to travel to. I was so happy to be wrong! Two sets of close friends have reason to be in Vancouver this year, and are adding on some Vancouver Island vacation, including staying with us for a few days. This makes me so happy!

Our friends M@ and sM were here this past week. The timing was a bit mad -- our first days with the full pack of five -- but it was also very fortuitous. Having extra hands-on help with the dogs, and extra eyes with dog experience, definitely helped us over a few speed bumps.

San Josef Bay, Holberg, and the Scarlet Ibis pub

We took our friends on a drive/hike to San Josef Bay. As long as visitors want to bother, I'll never get tired of this (although Allan is already tired of it). The road didn't seem quite as long and grueling this time, the hike is brilliant, and the beach is heavenly. If we don't want the hike, we'll try Grant's Bay, reported to be "nice, but not as nice as Sanjo", and just steps from the parking lot.

On the way out to Sanjo, we stopped to stretch our legs in the tiny hamlet of Holberg, which I wrote about here. The Scarlet Ibis Pub -- the only such establishment one sees on the road to Sanjo -- is open for the season, but was closed that day.

The host invited us in to use the washroom -- and to hear a sales pitch. She runs the whole place herself and, after 40 years, is ready to sell and retire. It's a beautiful pub, with a classic home-cooked menu, a view of an inlet, and a small living suite attached. The price is a steal for somebody. But the location... wow. 50 kms on an unpaved logging road to nowhere. According to our host, the pub does a steady business with forestry workers (loggers and replanters), about 80 locals, and the Sanjo beach crowd. But there is nothing else in the area -- no supermarket, no bank, no school.

With our guests, we also spent some time on "our" bay, the lovely paved waterfront walk in Port Hardy. We saw the usual eagles, and sM spotted a sea otter, but it was too far for a good view. Looking for something else local to do, we went to Storey's Beach, a short drive away and a favourite spot for the dogs. These trips were all sans dogs, for several reasons -- and that turned out to be a very good thing.

Eagles -- and more eagles -- on Storey's Beach

We were watching some herons and possibly an osprey, looking at shells, and whatnot, when a bald eagle swooped down to the sand. It was quickly joined by another, then another, and another. The birds were tugging and fighting over some morsel in the mud; other eagles swooping in for a better view and a try at the prize.

At one point, there were eight eagles, some on the sand and others flying low overhead. One flew off with fish guts in his talons, while three others fought over more remains.

It was an incredible sight. We were at most 50 feet away. I was concerned we were standing too close, but the birds were completely unconcerned with us.

After some time, when only one bird remained on the scene, we crept up closer. There were small pools of blood in the sand. I immediately thought of nature red of tooth and claw, from Tennyson, often used as a shorthand for the Victorian-era view of nature -- and M@ said it before I did.*

Allan and I didn't have our camera with us, but lucky for you, our friend sM -- a talented photographer -- did. I'll post a link when I have it.

First Nations experience in Alert Bay

We took the ferry from Port McNeill to Alert Bay, a mostly Indigenous community on Cormorant Island. There's a cute little main street, which I'm sure comes alive in the summer months, some hiking trails, an art gallery, and a few other minor attractions, but the principal reason to visit is the .

U'mista is a small treasure trove of First Nations art, beautifully curated and displayed, and especially notable for how it was acquired. All the objects have been reclaimed and repatriated from museums and private collections. From the late 1800s until the 1950s, as part of its genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples,
Canada outlawed Potlatch.

Tlingit Potlach
(Image: Sheldon Museum)
Potlatch is a ritual re-distribution of wealth, practiced by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and the US. About the Coastal peoples, you will hear it said: the wealthiest family is not the family that acquires the most, but the family that gives the most away. In a celebration of food, song, and storytelling dance that goes on for days, the wealthiest families would give food, clothing, other necessities, and also luxuries, to the rest of the community.

At Potlatch, ritual masks and robes would be worn for dances that told stories. When the ceremonies were outlawed, the Canadian government confiscated all the regalia. Indigenous scholars and activists have spent decades tracking down and attempting to acquire the stolen objects. Over the decades, too, Potlatches were held in secret, and the U'mista Centre honours the courageous individuals who were determined to keep their traditions alive.

The U'mista Centre stands beside the site of St. Michael's, one of the notorious residential schools. When the school -- which closed only in 1974 -- was demolished, survivors and families gathered for a ceremony (good article at that link).

Modern Potlatch
U'mista has information about the residential schools, which I assume many visitors wouldn't know about -- considering up until 15 or so years ago, even most Canadians (from non-Indigenous backgrounds) didn't know about them. It's incredibly painful and incredibly important to learn about. I felt like I did after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC (although the U'mista Centre is quite small).

I have read about the residential schools, and have learned about other similar situations -- for example, in Australia, depicted in the brilliant, heartbreaking film "Rabbit Proof Fence". I thought I knew how horrifying and disgusting both the schools and the policies were. Yet, when I learned more about them in the online course I'm taking, I must say, as bad as I thought it was, it was so much worse. It's painful to contemplate these injustices, but we are obligated to bear witness.

At U'mista, there are also beautiful photographs and displays about Indigenous activists and other community leaders. In the summer, there are cultural tours and sometimes the opportunity to see dances performed. There's also a fantastic gift shop, where everything is made in Canada and Indigenous artists are credited (and, I presume, paid).

The U'mista Cultural Centre is a must-visit if you're on the North Island.

Several restaurants were not yet open for the season, but we had a delicious lunch at the Bayside Grill. Don't let the ragtag coffee-shop appearance put you off. All our food was very good, especially the Indian dishes.

Photos of eagles to follow!

* Please do not tell me that Tennyson did not originate the phrase. 1, we all have Wikipedia. 2, in the world of arts, literature, and culture, this is Tennyson's phrase. Your cooperation is appreciated.
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