November 5th, 2006 by admin
It’s been too long since we had our fix. Humor fix, that is. And why not an essay from one of the best in the biz’ and a NativeVue fave’ for sho, Drew Hayden Taylor. Let me put it this way. If Drew were American, he would push Mitch Album’s cheeky stories right off the top spot on the NY Times Best Seller list. So here’s a taste of baloney…tartar.
The Repaved Way Home
By Drew Hayden Taylor
I left home, a small Ojibway First Nations in Central Ontario, way back in 1980. The reason: college and a desire to see if there was more to life than country music, mosquitoes, and baloney. Twenty-six years later, it looks like I will be returning home. Much has changed in that intervening time – both in my community and in myself.
When I left home, I was young, impressionable, still trying to understand the appeal of disco, and about twenty pounds lighter. Now I’m old, still impressionable, trying to understand the appeal of rap, and the less said about my weight the better. I know I’m old, I read the Globe & Mail, and listen to CBC Radio faithfully. That’s more accurate than flashing your birth certificate. With that said, I have decided after all this time, life in Toronto holds no more mystery for me. I’ve done the restaurants, the theatres, the bars, the museums, and the transit system. I love the city but let’s face it, the novelty has worn off. Now the salmon must return home to spawn… but perhaps that’s not the best metaphor to use.
In those two and a half decades, I’ve traveled the world, published seventeen books, tip toed my way through a half dozen different forms of media expression, and had my heart broken a few times. Nothing new there, that happens to practically everyone everywhere. But, as I said, both I and my community have changed, hopefully for the better. I am reminded of Brian Maracle’s wonderful book about moving back home, BACK ON THE REZ. In it, he describes the trials and tribulations of an Urban Indian taking up residence back “home”. I just hope the transition won’t be too difficult. I was born a Rez Indian, became an Urban Indian, and will return home an Urbane Indian. I wonder if the transformation can work in reverse.
Needless to say, my experiences in those intervening years have changed me somewhat. Two years ago when I was in India on my mother’s birthday, I emailed her via my aunt, wishing her a happy birthday and saying that I’d just taken a tour of a city called Jaipur where I’d seen camels, monkeys and elephants walking the streets. My aunt later emailed me back saying that for her birthday, my mother’s sisters took her to a nearby garbage dump to watch the bears. I’m going to have to reconcile these two realities. Still, I’m sure the people of Jaipur would find bears and a First Nations garbage dump equally fascinating.
When I left all those years ago, I thought I’d never return, the anger of youth and all. There was a world to be explored out there and god damn it I was going to do that. Since then, I’ve chased kangaroos in Australia, gotten drunk with Finnish University students, battled sandstorms in northern China, sampled asparagus ice cream in a Germany, gotten seasick in Cuba, stuck my finger in a bullet hole left by Pancho Villa in the ceiling of a cantina in Mexico City, saw plays in the West end of London, England, and swam in the oceans off the coast of Sicily while trying to avoid the jellyfish, just to name a few things.
Now I find myself becoming obsessed with how I’m going to re-adapt to life on the Reserve. I find myself preferring mortedella to baloney and wonder if that will be a problem. It doesn’t fry as well. I don’t know if that makes me elitist or what. But in the end, much of my concerns comes down to food. Several years ago I’d been approached about a possible faculty position at Trent University which is about half an hour from my community. I pondered and thought about the idea, and surprisingly, the most potentially traumatic issue that troubled me was food. Over the years, I’d become quite fond of international cuisines. I have it on fairly good authority that that bulgoki and kim chi are difficult to find back home on the Reserve. That could be due to the noticeable lack of Koreans. Evidently there’s just as little decent Thai, Greek and Vietnamese food there too. I will have to trade in lemon grass for sweet grass. Maybe I’ll learn to make baloney tartar.
I now no longer have to ponder the idea of moving to Curve Lake. The reality is here. This summer I’m going home. Granted I used to go home every four or six weeks to visit my mother and immediate family, but there is a noticeable difference between visiting and taking up residence. The noted Cree playwright and author Tomson Highway for instance was born in Brochet Manitoba, near the North West Territories. Today, he spends half the year in a cottage in the south of France. He was once quoted as saying “I don’t do Canadian winters anymore.” I envy him. A small part of me would love the opportunity to return to a small island I found off the coast of Fiji. As a writer in the internet age, that would conceivable be possible – though my writing could possibly lose its authenticity. Instead of Molson’s Canadian, my characters would end up drinking kava, a narcotic drink Polynesians imbibe made from the roots of an island plant. Again, not a lot of kava on my Reserve.
On the positive side, while I have gone out to the world, the world has also came to my Reserve. When I went to China a few months back, I asked some cousins what they wanted me to bring them back. Uniformly, they all asked for green tea. I was amazed and brought back as much as I could. I don’t even drink green tea. So maybe the move won’t be so traumatic. There’s the internet and satellite television. There’s a place down the road from where I’ll be living that actually makes pizza from scratch – sort of an aboriginal version I guess. But when I order, I’ll have to tell them to hold the Spam.
It’s green at home. Very green. Lots of bugs too. Can’t forget the relatives that know everything you are doing, even before you do. But its home. The pace is slower. Stress definitely lower, and I’ve got a lovely house surrounded by several acres of trees to hide in, in case the going get tough. So maybe it won’t be all bad. I have purchased an authentic Chinese/Korean cookbook. The satellite dish I have will keep me more informed with the television stations in Newfoundland and Alberta then Toronto cable ever could. And next November I’m scheduled to go to a conference in Vienna, Austria to lecture on Native people in North America (I’m sure my reaction was the same as yours), and in the new year, Poland.
And who knows, maybe in those countries, saying I live on a Native Reserve will make me seem a lot more exotic and interesting then saying I live in a split level bungalow in Toronto.
Copyright 2006 Drew Hayden Taylor
Find out where you can see one of DHT’s plays or purchase his books by visiting his website: www.drewhaydentaylor.com