Chippewa Fisherman Speaks Out

By Danny Beaton

I was born in Flint Michigan. We moved up here with my Grandmother in 1973, my mom was Chippewa of Nawash, Cape Croker, Ontario, Canada. We moved around a lot, but we always came back to Cape Croker because of the rocks and water. You get tired of living in the city with all the noise and nowhere to stretch out. It’s nice to go out into the bush with no one to bother you, sit and be quiet. In the city it is so stressful, so many people. It is nice sitting by a big old tree and watching nature go by, mice, birds, etc. all sorts of things come to you when you are there. Nature accepts you as being part of it when you are there.

When you are stressed out or need to make decisions you can go out in the boat, while you are fishing watching an Eagle take a fish from me. Certain times of year they show up a lot, they fly by, I acknowledge them and they will find a tree by the shore and watch me. It’s a nice place to be out on the water looking at the sky, the clouds. I started fishing when I was ten years old with my Uncles. We used to go out when we didn’t have motor, we would row out to the net, lift net, bring the fish in, then I’d go up to the house, wash up, then go to school.
I’ve tried to stay close to my roots so that I do everything by hand. I don’t use machinery, I have an open steel boat even though things are very commercial today, that’s the way I learned to fish. Feeling the wind spray in the open boat, your life is in your own hands. I know I have been out there a few times when I shouldn’t have. You really feel alive when the lightening is flashing around you and there are seven or eight foot waves breaking in front of you. Your stomach is down below your knees, you feel vulnerable and alive at the same time, when you don’t know if you are going make it back. You are sitting there thinking you’ve lived a good life and you’re thinking the Creator can take me whenever he wants. If not, I’ll try to continue to make it home to my wife and kids.

In Georgian Bay the weather can change in five minutes, once you head out and it takes you one hour to lift your net by hand a lot can happen by then. A lot has happened to the water of the Oceans, that mercury in Albacore because the Albacore Tuna live longer so the mercury content is higher. Pregnant Women and nursing Women now are being warned on television not to eat more than 2.5 ounces a week. So the government has put out this limit to Women. It’s getting worse in our own waters here in Georgian Bay the changing in the algae on the shore line.

We used to have short haired algae, now it’s long and slippery that the fish can’t set their eggs into that change has happened only in the last 25 year period. I know this year I’ve been talking to people here about a foam and bubbles on the water that was never here before, it’s some form of pollution and it stretches for miles. It’s serious yet nobody has done anything to clean it up. If we start to lose species then maybe someone will take action.

We’ve let so people move onto the shore lots, years ago we didn’t have so many houses on the shore. Now all these people from the cities who are retiring, the baby boomers, who have retirement packages, are selling their three or four hundred thousand dollar homes. They are coming up here, buying places at half that cost and have almost no taxes. The shore lines are covered now, you can’t even walk on the shore lines because they are the back yards of these homes and cottages. It’s like that all over Indian Country. Years ago you could walk for miles without seeing anyone. We have sold our souls to this beautiful waterscape that we have here. Allowing people to come in, that’s got to be putting some kind of adverse effect on our water ecology. Every one of them city people have a boat, everyone pollutes a little bit and even just a little bit is a lot. Some are good and they have given up their motors, they are kayaking and canoeing.

There are some people with them cigar boats that have two to four powerful engines and speed between 70 and 100 miles an hour. Their sound carries; you can hear them from four or five miles away. When they are one mile away they overwhelm all sound. They have to be blowing away hundreds of gallons of fuel, racing just to go fast. I don’t see any fun of it, you can’t talk or hear the person next to you, and your whole body must be vibrating. All these personal water craft are everywhere during the summer months, cabin cruisers, sail boats, anglers and even lake freighters. During fall, spring and winter no one shows up and I am alone again on the water.

Our waters are full of oil slicks from all the exhausts, extra oil that isn’t burnt during combustion floats on the water. The last refuge of clean water are our Northern lakes and now we are bringing float-planes and outboards up there as tourist traps, fishing and hunting for trophy size game. These Northern lakes that had no activity are now getting more and more popular.

There is no place safe.

The Oceans are full of barges, every city that has an ocean front, New York, New Jersey, etc… They don’t have dump sites or land fills. They load up their garbage onto barges, go out 200 miles open up and drop it to the bottom of the ocean, Manhattan too. The water is being disrespected everywhere, up here there are Artesian waters so strong that they blow to the surface, we have some of the best waters of the world here in Georgian Bay. Natural springs here in Georgian Bay hold

Healing minerals.

In the old days we used to walk through the bush for hunting, now people are driving with spot lights at night to jack-light the deer. People aren’t doing enough to protect Mother Earth. People aren’t putting down tobacco for medicines that are picked, some people are harvesting plants with a shovel and don’t even put the earth back. Our Elders are leaving us with that knowledge that they have, because we are not acting like First Nations People should.

I believe that the video games and television are causing some of our problems today, our people are getting that disease that non Natives have, greed, we’re not happy with what we have. We now always want to be better than our neighbors. Our own people are setting miles of net, not yards, taking tons of fish. Our Ancestors wouldn’t have lashed fifty canoes together and have all the men lifting miles and miles of nets. Our Ancestors looked to the future and said we have to save for our kids. A lot of our people have lost that willingness to do their part and say hey this doesn’t belong to me some of this has to be continued on, not just for my children but their children and their children, its that seven generation idea again, that a lot of us have lost sight of. We’ve gotten trapped in this commercial life, this disposable life that we have. Meaning we have to have so many landfills.

We buy things in excess and we throw half of it back. We forget about the food in the refrigerator, things have to get thrown away. We went out and bought it, we thought it was a good idea. Once we had it in our possession we let it go bad, then we have to throw it away.

All the packaging is needless too, everything is canned, everything is plastic, even the fruit and vegetables we buy are wrapped. Everything has to travel from South to North and our food has been touched by many hands who seek profit, we have to start thinking about the longer terms for our children, are we going to save anything for our children? If we don’t save anything for our children they aren’t going to have much of a life. We need to protect surface springs in Georgian Bay so that our children will have clean mineral water for their future. Most of all we need to be creative and protective for our little ones, our future generations.

Pretty soon people will have to buy their water in a green bottle with a French name on it that costs three bucks, Perrier. The Great Lakes are being raped by developers too; the USA wants our water for irrigating southern crops via the Mississippi. Everything is changing fast, so much mismanagement.
We had some problems with some beavers a while back and rather than cut a few trees near power lines the people put a bounty on them. Now all the area has a shortage of willows for making Sweat Lodges because the beaver dams helped create a wetland area, now the area is not wet enough since the beaver dams are gone. Even the Sweet Grass can’t grow with the Wet Lands gone, Nature has its own cycles, and we shouldn’t be trying to play God with Natural Cycles.

The hardest thing is many of us have lost our Heritage, our Culture, only a handful of us practice our ways outright. Lots of people practice with their hearts and hide it away until its Powwow time or certain Ceremonies, but for the rest of their days they become polluters and takers, like closet Indians. We have long way to go but as long as there are few us who keep the fire alive, we still have a chance. If we all give up then we’re beat. I’ll teach my kids to fish but I only want them to take what they need.

There’s a lot more to life than non Native money. There’s got to be something we can do that’s not going to change us as people. Money can’t fix all problems; we have to be in touch with Mother Earth, it’s our job as adults to teach our children that truth, that we are First Nations, not numbers or damaged goods from residential schools. We had our culture beaten out of us. There are a lot of nice things that have to be brought back; like that smoldering coal has to be nurtured into a fire. We have poor Brothers and Sisters whose own children are killing themselves, because they see no future, no hope. They’re sniffing gas; drugs and alcohol are rampant on Reservations, even on my Reserve here. It’s a way to stop the pain we feel within our selves.

It’s not just one thing we have to change, it’s a whole way of life, we have to say we have strayed from the good path we’ve wanted to be on. We have to come back now the way our circle teachings teaches us. The way the Two Rows Wampum says, we can go together down the river in our canoes, but we don’t interfere with each other. What we have done is we are allowing our children to see too much TV. Our kids are learning that they think they only look good in a hundred and fifty dollar pair of Nikes. Our kids are bombarded with meaningless Culture and Values. We need to teach our kids to be proud of their Culture, be proud of who we are, be proud of Mother Earth, be proud of the animals, be proud of the rivers and lakes because they took care of our ancestors and they will take care of us in the future if we take care of them for the future.

When the first settlers came, our Medicine people and Shamans said there will be times when our people will forget who they are, but there will always be some who remember to keep the fire of our ways, a smoldering coal until it can be brought back to a flame, things will turn around some day.

People don’t see proud Nations who fought in many world wars where our men sacrificed themselves for this country; they treated them afterwards like they were nothing. When they back from the wars they weren’t allowed to vote. Our men could die for this country but couldn’t even vote if they came home alive. We weren’t allowed to even go into a bar and have a drink with the men we fought alongside with.

There will be a time when we break free from residential school era. What got me onto the Good Path were the sweat lodges, as long as we have the ceremonies we can heal. The hard thing is finding those teachings before they evaporate, because time evaporates our Elders away from us. The churches wiped away our Cultural teachings to the point where some old Elders won’t talk about ceremonies that they know. I respect others if they want to believe in that way but I believe that everything has a spirit, the trees, the rocks, the water, and the animals, there are spirits all around us. I am grateful for all the little things around me. There are a lot of mysteries around us every day that mean nothing to us when we look at them now in this time of our life. But I found that in my short days here that I’ve sat and watched something happen in Nature. Be it an ant moving a leaf, be it chipmunk moving around my feet while I’m sitting there.

Years later those ants and chipmunks mean something to my spirit. Just like our old teachings that our Elders show us that were passed on to them from their Elders. We think nothing of them teachings until those Elders pass on and you’ve gotten older. Later on in life we change in another phase, becoming an Elder, we see things different, our experiences become brighter. It’s a matter of keeping your eyes open as Nature has its own way for us if we listen to her and take the time to sit back and watch, She will give us the answers that we need.