I really am going to get back to writing about art and literature soon. Really. I’ve been reading William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience for the last little bit, so I haven’t had much to say about reading. In the mean time . . .
I found myself at the University of Alberta this afternoon, intending to join in the almost daily Round Dance here in Edmonton. That University has a bunch of different buildings from when I went there thirty years ago! And it’s a whole lot more crowded (with little youngsters) than I remember it. I found myself sub-vocalizing David Bowie’s new single, “Where Are We Now?”, which has been making me feel a sort of peacefully melancholy nostalgia for lost time.
The festivities began right on time with polite passing out of information pamphlets to passers by and then an Elder’s prayer from the steps of Pembina Hall, one of the oldest buildings on Campus. The crowd turned in good order to the four cardinal directions and then proceeded to a sunny position in the main Quad while the drummers and singers received brief instructions on the steps. It was a good crowd — a couple of hundred, I’d guess. And it was a very diverse crowd! There were Canadians of all colours and ages, although university students seemed predominant. It was nice to see a trio of young women in hijabs giggling as they tried to figure out the steps, old white guys who couldn’t even round dance, and a bunch of First Nations university students.
The drummers and singers were magnificent! The sun shone down on the bright snow and the laughing faces as we started off in a big ring, holding hands with strangers — now friends. We circled, unmittened hands warmed by mittened hands to each side. The ring was large enough that it little more than a single round was completed by the time the drumming stopped for the first time. We all stood in the ring for a moment and then the shout and response was begun my a gentleman I remember from the Kingsway round dance. It was that timeless old simple and direct one:
“What do we want?
“When do we want it?”
There were one or two others and then the drums started up again, we circled again happily, and then, in no time we made our way back to the steps of Pembina Hall for bannock and tea, a very nice touch. As I stood in line with all the other smiling people, I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned around, and there was Phyllis! After a hug and introductions to friends, she said “I’m goin’ inside to warm up! See tomorrow at the rally downtown!”
After I got my bannock, I went inside to warm up a moment before the bus ride home. I stood listening to Phyllis chatting for a bit while toddlers toddled around the lobby of Pembina Hall, grinning as broadly as the adults. Then I took my leave, feeling that I couldn’t have spent the afternoon in any better way. And the warmth and happiness has been so lasting that even the nasty comments tacked on to the bottom of online news stories about Idle No More haven’t cooled or saddened me this evening.
I really wish that every Canadian could find it in their heart to take an hour from their day sometime over the next few months to take the hand of the stranger on their left and of the stranger on their right and hear the drums and the singing and connect themselves to all the long generations of this land.
“As long as there’s sun . . . As long as there’s rain . . . As long as there’s fire . . .”