The Wannabe Elder

Fiction based on actual events. For Lional Whitebird, by Gordon Pelletier

The Medicine Man, as he liked to be called, didn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground when it came to Native Spirituality. He maintains to this day, however, that he’s a great Healer and Seer who is worthy of conducting in the Sweat Lodge. I remain unconvinced, because some people actually impersonate policemen and get away with it, others don doctor’s regalia and roam hospital corridors pretending to be among colleagues, and others walk into taverns and tell tales of affluence in a jet setting life to win a maiden’s favor. I’ve done it myself, to tell you the truth. When I’m not looking for something meaningful, I’ll bullshit my way into some unsuspecting maiden’s favor if I think it might lead to some intimacy.

Folks become suspicious for some reason. They ask for a badge number, or they find you absolutely by chance sleeping at a Coffee Time at four in the morning. I started to think the Wannabe Elder was full of shit when he began twitching as he lay just outside his Sweat Lodge. He didn’t know it, but Blackfoot and Dog Rib were snickering and some were laughing as surges of energy from Mother Earth entered his body. I didn’t laugh; I just looked at him and wondered if he was serious, and if he was serious, was he all there? He twitched when he was smoking his pipe too. All of a sudden, he’d twitch to the right like the Creator had slapped him in the ribs. He’d touch the Grandfathers with the tip of his pipe and then go through another spell of twitching.

Those twitches alone made me and several Ojibway suspect his arse was sucking air, but I really started to question his credibility when I heard him singing in the Sweat Lodge for the first time. He’d sing, “Hey ya hey,” over and over again, and then end his only verse with a heart pulling, “Hey, hey.” I was absolutely convinced his arse was sucking slough water when an Elder from Alberta put his ear up to the Lodge and said, “I don’t know what the hell that guy’s singing in there.”

I was minding the Fire and Grandfathers and observed as the Cree Elder’s curiosity got the better of him. He’d stop what he was doing and place his ear to the Sweat Lodge from time to time. The Elder shook his head on one of these occasions and said, “He’s just singing, hey ya hey over and over again.” Fact of the matter, the Wannabe Elder I’m talking about didn’t know a single song, not a Grass Dance song, not a Warrior’s song, not even a Travel song. As it turned out, he was just saying, “Hey ya hey,” while striking a hand drum.

Some guys can be pretty brazen, Grey Owl himself was straight up white, but had scores believing he was an Aboriginal First Nations Guy for the better part of his life and won fame for doing so. There are a lot of helicopter pilots out there in the taverns around closing time; some claim to have made Linda Lovelace gag, and thousands more speak of Nam like it was yesterday. The Wannabe Elder I speak of told Swampy Cree off in the Sweat Lodge. He told an Ojibway to mind her smart mouth, and his eyes went crazy and wild when he thought he was putting a Saulteaux living with A.I.D.S. in his place.

When Ojibway and Cree wanted to be given their Spiritual guides, he’d come up with White Eagle, Silver Hawk, or Running Deer. There were no Bush Rabbits, Woolly Marmots, or Striped Martins in his vocabulary. The Wannabe Medicine Man I speak of was the furthest thing from a great Seer, too. He had to close one eye and squint hard with the other to find his focus last time I had occasion to see him. He was taking a piss behind the Waverley Hotel on Spadina that time, drunk as a Davis Inlet shrew on cheque day. When he finally noticed I was in the vicinity drawing on some marijuana, he opened his other eye, gave his penis a quick shake and then staggered back into the Waverley.

Obviously this guy didn’t know or care that Medicine Men walk a fine line. They don’t tell Pottawattamie and Chippewa off in the Sweat Lodge, they don’t relieve themselves behind seedy hotels, and alcohol should never cause them to close one eye to regain their focus. I’m just a learner, but even I know Elders and Medicine Men have to pay their dues; they have to watch and listen for a very long time. They have to draw on a wealth of life experience, and if they want to conduct in the Sweat Lodge, at the very least they have to know one song. This is the guy who would toy with a police car’s siren. He would be the high school dropout desiring to debate political issues with a Professor of Political Science, and he’d be the crazy fucker from Saugeen who laces up a pair of skates for the first time and then tells Chris Simon to take a flying fuck at Sister Moon. I truly believe he thought his collection of drums, pipes, and rattles were his ticket to life as a Medicine Man.

If that’s what he was doing, it was working right up to the time he started singing and twitching in the Sweat Lodge. He didn’t know it, but First Nation women were looking at one another and then looking at him as surges of energy from Mother Earth found their way into his body. Rez chicks were sticking their tongues out and quietly whispering, “Aaahh,” amongst themselves. I wanted to tell a joke, but there were still those among us who believed in and respected the man. In my silence though, I wanted to make a medicine pouch out of his scrotum. I actually thought about pulling his shit bag out and using it for a drum skin, and I have to confess I mulled over which part of his body would be best for a rattle. When I finally tired of these thoughts and dismissed all aspirations of claiming his scalp, I decided I had enough and left the place vowing never to return. It was just too awkward for me, kind of like white folk suspecting a pedophile has been leading them in prayer for the last twenty years.

When I got back to Toronto, I started telling everyone who would listen about the guy. I’d say, “And then he started twitching like power surges from the Creator were entering his body.” I pointed him out to several of my friends one day when I noticed him driving by. I said, “Look, there’s that guy who was twitching involuntarily when energy surges from the Creator rained down upon his body!” To this day I remain unimpressed with the guy; I’m more amused by him than anything, to tell you the truth. Sure, he pissed a lot of First Nation people off, but at the same time, he made lots of us laugh. These things happen and will continue to happen because so many of us have lost contact with our culture and traditions.

Lots of us don’t know the songs or ceremonies that have remained unchanged for thousands of years. I would learn in time to just go into the Sweat Lodge and have good thoughts and to think good things for the ones that are dear to me. It’s not about who’s conducting the Sweat, it’s about one cleansing the mind, body, and inner self. The guy I’m speaking about remains infatuated with Medicine Men and the ceremonies they perform, and I’m okay with that, but in my mind he should be sitting very still with the rest of us quietly absorbing and respecting the teachings that will keep our culture and traditional ceremonies alive forever.