I grew up in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada, in the tiny Dene (Pronounced DEN-eh) first nation band of Black Lake, which sits on a Lake of the same name. I’m Métis, which in Canada means some of my family is of European Ancestry (my mom’s side) and some of my family are First Nations (My dad’s side, who are Dene). Through my dad I grew up to love the outdoors; he took me hunting in the endless acres of forest that surrounded our tiny town. Reservations are rough places to grow up in the best of times, so I was happy to escape the depression and rampant alcoholism of the reserve by using my dad’s crossbow to stalk the many deer and moose that lived in the woods. Most of the time I didn’t even make a kill; I just went to enjoy nature and listen to the wind whistling in the evergreen woods.
One day, after a particularly rough day in school in the mid-fall – when the first flurries of the oncoming Canadian winter were beginning to come down – I grabbed my dad’s crossbow with his permission, and trekked out down my street out into the woods. A smile crossed my face as I ducked under the fallen pine I usually passed as I went hunting. Slowly the distant sounds of the community faded away, and I was left with bird sound and the rustling of small squirrels and chipmunks. I followed the little-known path to my makeshift deer stand I’d made with my dad – a small platform lashed to a tree by a creekbank that drained into the nearby lake. I was about eight feet off the ground with a small step ladder leading up to it. The platform was the remains of an old fire lookout structure that my dad had bought on the cheap from the Province. It was about two kilometers down that path I’d been walking on, and when I got there I pulled myself up the step ladder onto the platform and made myself comfortable, scanning the river bank silently for any deer coming down for a drink. After a few hours it became clear today wasn’t going to be my day, so I took a lighter from my pocket, stuffed some kindling into an old coffee pot I kept on the platform and lit a small campfire to ward of the chill of the evening fall air.
As I sat there, crossbow across my lap and enjoying the warmth of the little blaze, I felt myself dozing a little – letting the flurries melt on my warm toque. But then I heard a sound that snapped me instantly awake, and completely on guard.