“Lightfinder” by Aaron Paquette: Comparisons Will Inevitably Be Made

(no spoilers ahead!)

Lightfinder by artist Aaron Paquette is a stunning debut novel, an enthralling first instalment of what promises to be an exciting series of novels for young adults (and all sorts of other readers). Comparisons will inevitably be made (I’ll do it myself in a moment), but unlike authors of some of the popular novel series for young adults of the recent and not-so-recent past, Paquette has firmly rooted the adventure in our real world: no Ministry of Magic, no post-Apocalyptic Panem, and although there are magical journeys, they are not to some aborted Medievalist fantasy called Narnia or anything else imaginary. Lightfinder is an adventure in the landscape and geography – and political economy – of Canada – specifically Alberta – today. And it is an adventure through the difficult life of Paquette’s young Cree heroine, Aisling, from the challenge of rising above the generational abuse suffered by her ancestors to simply finish school, through the tragedy of parental alcoholism and death, to the realization that she, and her runaway brother Eric are the keys to the future of Planet Earth.

Aisling, with the help of her Auntie Martha and Kokum Georgia begins on a quest to rescue Eric from the evil influence of the mysterious boy Cor. Quickly it becomes clear that the real quest is nothing less than to save the Earth from destruction by the evil “Raven” (long ago “Raven” wiped life off the faces of both Mars and the Moon). Along the way, Aisling is helped (and hindered) in her quest by a number of humans and individuals from the dream world – “real” world and dream world mingle. There’s the half-Australian Aborigine, Matari; the shy school-friend Jake; the Dreaming figures of Laughing Toad, Standing Coyote, and Walking Man.

And, the comparisons will inevitably come: “The Lightfinder Saga is an Indigenous Harry Potter!” “Lightfinder is a Native Narnia!” “Dune in the Boreal Forest!” “A First Nations Hunger Games!”

I admit, while reading Lightfinder I briefly made all these comparisons as well as the analogy Paquette explicitly makes to Star Wars:

“Do or do not,” her Kokum chimed in with a mischievous smile. “There is no try.” p. 64

I argue, however, that, while such analogies may easily be drawn, and the comparisons may bring fruitful understandings, Lightfinder is not in any significant way derivative of the blockbuster icons which have preceded it.

The Harry Potter series with which J. K. Rowling addicted a generation or more of young people to reading is perhaps the most obvious parallel, obvious not least because the boy wizard and Hogwarts have so penetrated the popular consciousness. But, Rowling’s world is removed from ours, an imaginative but fundamentally unreal pastiche of pretend European magical themes, practices and ideas grafted onto an alternative universe in which all the magic is hidden by the rather unbelievable conspiracy called the Ministry of Magic. Its all good fun, but no matter how well we suspend our disbelief, Privet Drive -never mind Hogwarts – is not a part of our world.

Paquette’s world, on the other hand, is firmly rooted in North American realities, the reality of Indigenous kids forced by history into adulthood before their teen years have begun, the reality of environmental devastation by faceless, unnamed forces, and the reality of vibrant and freshly alive Native spirituality and tradition. Whether or not we believe in the magic of Lightfinder, it is an organic magic of our real world, developed over generations, not the artificial playthings constructed by Rowling for Hogwarts to teach its young charges. Aisling is a girl just like any number you will see each day on Edmonton’s LRT, at school in Maskwacîs, or visiting with her Kokum in Standoff, or Sucker Creek, or Cold Lake or an apartment in Saskatoon. She has no lightening bolt scar. She’s not an only-child orphan of mysterious parents. What is remarkable about her is what is remarkable about any teenage girl: she intends to change her world.

Like C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books, Lightfinder has parallel worlds and talking animals. But, unlike those of Lewis, Paquette’s animals talk because they are part of a real, vast, coherent mythological tradition, not because they are just pulled out of various religious and historic periods or even thin air, as Lewis’ are pulled.

And the world of Lightfinder is harsh and gritty. Wounding and death can and do come to the characters in graphic descriptions never seen by Harry and his friends or the Pevensie kids. Lightfinder owes more to The Orenda than to Narnia. It is this gritty realism that is pretty much Lightfinder‘s only similarity to The Hunger Games.

An analogy could be made between the Messianic trappings of Paul Atriedes in Dune and the two protagonists of Lightfinder. In both books the expected child(ren) arrive too early, upsetting the grand plan somewhat. But Messiahs in world literature are legion, and the environmental concerns of Lightfinder I’m sure owe everything to Paquette’s experience, and nothing to the dry-land ecology of Dune.

Overshadowing all, of course, is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, another quest by an unlikely hero to save the world from life-sucking evil. The Lord of the Rings, for anyone who has read the nearly-two-dozen posthumous volumes of Tolkien’s writings (I have) will know, is rooted as deep as the lowest depths of the Mines of Moria in the pre-Christian mythology and languages – philology we might say – of Northern Europe (principally Germanic and Finnish). In the author’s bio at the back of the book, and also at the book’s launch in Edmonton, Paquette remembers his mother’s imitation of Gollum as she read The Lord of the Rings to him as a child. I think, here, in The Lord of the Rings, there may be the only really significant influence from Fantasy literature by European Colonial authors. But, again, Paquette’s tale takes place today in readily identifiable places, not in the distant shadowed past of Middle Earth. “Raven” resembles more the god of Pullman’s His Dark Materials than he does Sauron. There is no “Fellowship” of disparate races in Lightfinder. Rather, there is family and (sometimes false) friends.

No. Lightfinder is not a Metis Lord of the Rings.

In the end, although we inevitably note reminders of books we’ve read before, Lightfinder is a brilliantly fresh, enthralling first novel, a novel that I expect will inspire a new generation of young readers both within and far beyond Canada’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. In fact, I’d venture to say Lightfinder will likely be not only a best seller, but a blockbuster that brings to an international generation an indigenous reality and, just maybe, a change to the world.

It would probably make a good movie, too!

Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette is published by Kegedonce Press.

Two weeks after its release, a second printing was needed.


My Favourite Symmetry in the Nadeau-Paquette Mural Project at Edmonton’s Grandin Station

After a tiring evening of gallery openings and late night reading, I dragged myself (and a sick daughter) to Grandin LRT Station for the official unveiling of the updated and finally symmetrical murals at the platform.  It was good to visit briefly with Aaron Paquette in person again (and humbling and flattering to be introduced to Silvie Nadeau as “a very good man”).  The warmth on the platform was remarkable in the few minutes before the official program began and that warm feeling continued throughout.

But I’m not going to detail extensively the activities or the murals just now.  I’m sure others in the crowd will do so on television, radio and internet in a number of languages quite soon.  What I do want to point out is a single and I think powerful symmetry I noticed toward the North end of the murals, a symmetry of celebration and endurance. One of Nadeau’s new panels shows in the mid-ground a modern-day rounddance.  On the opposite wall, in one of two cave-like petroglyphic panels in Paquette’s mural, there is an ancient and timeless rounddance.  I see this small symmetry of detail as an acknowledgement and claim of endurance and hope, stretching from the most ancient times of Pehonan, through tragedies and triumphs to today, on the eve of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s welcome to Edmonton.  Those two circles of unknown dancers are met together across time in this meeting place of travellers just up the hill from the ancient meeting place of Pehonan.  They dance together in the past and the present. We on the platform, on the trains, sitting beside strangers, striking up conversations, smiling as we share our journeys — we are dancing into the future together.

Please forgive my crappy photography!

Thoughts on a Very Cold but Very Warm Day

The morning of Friday, December 21, 2012 in Edmonton was cold, about -20, with a bit of a nasty wind on the flats above the river valley.  I bundled up and walked from Whyte Avenue north on 102 street, through the alley behind the Yardbird Suite, past the Caboose in End of Steel Park and dropped down one of the staircases off Saskatchewan drive.  The shelter of the bare trees was a relief.  I wound my way down Queen Elizabeth Park Road to the south end of the Walterdale bridge and waited for the light to let me cross the street to Kinsmen Park.  As I waited, a happy looking lady of about my middle age came off the bridge toward the same crossing.  The two flags she was carrying made it clear she had the same destination I had: the latest Idle No More rally and march.

As she came closer she said “Hi!” and gave me a mittened high five.  “I’m Phyllis,” she said.

“I’m John. It’s cold”

“Yeah. I’m thinking I should try to buy some longjohns somewhere.  But, people used to have it a lot worse than this.”

We crossed to the parking lot where people were rapidly gathering around the flatbed trailer with the generator and sound system. Phyllis introduced me to a few of the others, including a few organizers. Reporters, camera people and Edmonton Police Service vehicles and personnel were smiling and laughing with everyone. Two MLAs, one MP and a Senator were welcomed to the gathering.  Hand made signs were handed out to augment the banners and flags brought from home.

I helped Phyllis reconnect her Blood Nation flag to its broomstick pole. She’d absentmindedly hung it upside down.  Shortly after she left to get some warmer clothes from the supply donated by Occupy Edmonton.  We hugged and said we hoped to meet up later.

Once Lewis Cardinal arrived (there were many jokes about “Indian Time”) and the Elders had finished their ceremony, the happy and boisterous line of cold people from a multitude of Nations — First and later — began winding its way out of the parking lot.  A number of vehicles had been provided by various Nations  for the transport of the elderly and disabled and safety requests from the EPS were carefully relayed several times from the speakers’ trailer.

The walk across the bridge was mind-numbingly cold with the wind blowing unobstructed along the river.  The pace was a very slow march, ten or so abreast, banners and flags from dozens of First Nations standing out bravely in the stiff breeze.  As the procession stopped to honour the First Nations burial ground in Rossdale, I looked over my shoulder and recognized Phyllis’ flags.  “Hi, John, how ya doin’?” she asked.  Phyllis and I marched together for a good bit then.

Apart from the regular cries of “Idle No More”, the marchers were quite quiet. Now and then there would be a joke exchanged or, more often, a a word of encouragement or query “How ya doin’?” and regular comments on the cold.  As we were passing Telus Field, I noticed that Phyllis was struggling a bit with her two flags.

“Here, Phyllis, why don’t I carry one?”

And this is how I, a bearded descendent of about six generations of Settlers, came to be carrying a parade dress Union Flag (tied to a hockey stick) beside my new friend from the Blood Nation in a march of several hundred warm and friendly but quite restless Natives demanding respect for the treaties between our nations.  It seemed very surreal, but absolutely appropriate.  Part way up Bellamy Hill, Phyllis ran into her home to warm up for a bit, intending to catch up later.  I gave her back her flag.  I didn’t see Phyllis again in the crowd.  If you read this, Phyllis, thank you so much for being such a friendly companion.

At the top of the hill the march paused again and as I stood stamping my feet I noticed a sort of lonely figure standing in a blue parka at the edge of the crowd.  It was my neighbour who had said she was going to try to join the march part way through.  As we talked, a young lady asked if she could take our picture.  Somewhere out there is a photo of two very pink white people in blue coats taking part in Edmonton’s Solstice Idle No More rally.  I bet there’s a story behind that picture.

On we went, past Occupy’s hot chocolate stand, down Jasper Avenue to the space between Canada Place and the Convention Centre.  I told my neighbour that Aaron Paquette, one of the speakers, had told me on twitter that he was going to try to get a round dance going all the way around Canada Place.  Despite the cold, the turnout was almost big enough to make such a ring, but the dance ended up being a huge oval blocking Jasper Avenue.  As Paquette gave his rousing speech, my neighbour leaned over and said approvingly “He’s like a preacher!”

Paquette spoke stirringly of the fact that the warriors were taking their orders from the women. He cried out “No more Missing Women!” to cheers.  Then he swept off his cap and pointed up at Canada Place and called out (I paraphrase as well as I can, which is nothing as stirring as the actual words spoken) “Look at this building!  This building and others like it across this land have brought so much pain!” and there were a few boos directed toward the building. But Paquette continued “But we aren’t bringing pain.  We are bringing love! We will meet hatred and misunderstanding with love!” And he climbed down from the flatbed.

I made my way through the crowd as the drumming started up once more. I leaned over beside his ear and introduced myself over the noise. There was the briefest moment of hesitation before his face lit up and he took my hand and we had a brief hug.  “I read your piece on the Manitou Stone last night” he said and I felt as honoured as I would ever need to, and then he said “very good!”

Aaron seemed to be shaking a little — perhaps it was the cold but I think it was more the emotion of delivering his speech. He said of speaking before the worked up crowd “That’s not really my thing.”

I replied as urgently as I could “No. No, it is your thing.”

Shortly after we shook hands again and said I had to get going.  I left before the continuation of the march to Churchill Square.  I caught up to my neighbour and we rode the bus home together, along with a group from Fort Smith who had come down for the event.

Canadians, please understand that Idle No More is not about handouts or any of the other ignorant or bigotted things that are said against the movement.  Idle No More is at root about nothing other than the Rule of Law.  Yes, there is talk about the environment, about housing, about education, and about money.  But every single one of those issues means nothing without the underlying demand that we all, First Nations, Inuit, Metis, European-, Asian- and African-Canadians, and, most importantly, the Government — the demand that we all honour and respect the Rule of Law in our land. That Law is rooted in the Treaties which created the partnership and sharing which has made Canada.  Tragically, after the War with the United States two hundred years ago the partnership has been obscenely unequal.

Now is the time to educate and be educated. Now is the time to meet ignorance, fear and hatred with love, partnership and sharing.  Now is the time to honour completely the Treaties, the source of all that is Canada. It is the time for all of us to know and to celebrate that we are a Treaty Nation.

Grab your flag, whatever it might be, and march with Phyllis and I and all the rest into the future! We don’t want you to be left behind.

Stereotypes Don’t Trump What is Right, Legal, and Good

I should be working on Christmas baking and my paintings but I got thinking this morning as both The Current and Q on CBC Radio got around to #IdleNoMore and I felt like getting some of those thoughts down. Please forgive the impressionistic disorder.


Remember South Africa under apartheid? I do. Well, I don’t remember it in the sense of “I was there”. What I mean is that I was an adult when Nelson Mandela was released, and the events were a bit close to me because a dear old friend from my University days lived and worked and fought apartheid and spent time in jail in South Africa for her activism. Christina Scott was a journalist who, after the end of apartheid worked tirelessly for the education, particularly science education of girls in Africa until her untimely and absurdly tragic death in a traffic accident a little over a year ago, shortly before a new edition of her biography of Mandela came out.

My family’s business accountant in those days was a South African ex-pat who once told us the story of what spurred his families departure from his birthplace.  As a young man, our accountant said to his family’s Black house boy “If the revolution comes, would you kill me?”

The servant looked shocked and answered “Oh, no, Sir!” and paused before finishing “I would ask my best friend to kill you.”

At the same time that Chris was marching against White Rule, a number of years after our accountant’s house boy’s honesty,  I had a customer who happened to be a South African ex-pat, a very polite, gentle-voiced white fellow. The one thing that sticks in my mind about that gentleman is the one time we discussed the situation in South Africa. “The thing you have to realize, John,” he said, “Is that those people will never be able to govern themselves . . .”  I didn’t know what to say.

But I do now.

It doesn’t matter whether you think they can or can’t govern themselves. They have the legal and moral right and duty to be a part of the government of their nation, for better or worse.  Apartheid was an abomination, whatever came after it.  When Nelson Mandela walked down that road from prison, historical wrongs began to be corrected, whatever the pain and turbulence the people — all the people — of South Africa faced and still face in their new adventurous experiment.

I know White people who routinely refer to First Nations people as “savages” and tell stories of the drunken Indians he’s encountered, who think the Government “gives stuff” to the First Nations and then it all gets pissed away in corruption and booze. When I hear these people, I hear “The thing you have to realize, John . . .” nervously calling from the wrong side of history.

There are street people in my neighbourhood. Some are native, many are White. When I think of White people, I don’t think of the bottle picker we affectionately call “The Old White Guy”. I think of Leonard Cohen, or Stephen Lewis, or my sadly missed friend Chris. When I think of Metis, First Nation or Inuit people, I don’t think first of the native bottle pickers in my back alley, I think of artists Aaron Paquette and Alex Janvier, of actor Lorne Cardinal and his political activist brother Lewis, of musician Lucy Idlout. I think of the thousands, the millions of aboriginal Canadians who are just as successful or as unsuccessful, as hard-working or as lazy, as happy or as desperate as their non-aboriginal neighbours.

And, when I think of Canadians of all ethnic backgrounds,  I think of #IdleNoMore.


#IdleNoMore is a call for all Canadians to move forward together into a truly shared future, a future founded not on bigoted stereotypes but on the very clearly laid out shared responsibilities and rights protected for us all by our shared country’s Constitutional documents.  When I stand with the others at a rally, I’m not calling for the release of some Canadian Mandela. I’m calling for the release of so many ordinary Canadians from the bondage of stereotypes they’ve been taught, stereotypes which isolate us from each other. I’m calling for people to educate themselves. And I’m hoping they can imagine the future we could have in the Canada envisioned by the Treaties.

And I call back through time to that gentle-voiced man saying “Yes they can govern themselves! And no one has the right to say they can’t!  It is their fundamental right!”

And I say to all Canadians, we all have obligations and rights under our Constitution and as members of the human family.  And the Governments are bound to certain obligations by our Constitutional documents.  It is time for respect, time for Governments to respect our rights, time for Governments to respect their obligations and responsibilities And it is time for us to respect each other and the sharing agreements, the Treaties on which Canada is founded.

Let’s move forward together, idle no more, with the sadly interrupted experiment that is the Treaty Nation of Canada. It’s our fundamental right, and no one can say we can’t do it.


A visit to Dirt City/Dream City

It was raining this afternoon as I moved about the Quarters clutching my map of Dirt City/Dream City.  If you get the chance, rain or shine, turn a corner or go down an alley before the end of July and be surprised by a day-brightening bit — or lot — of art. Today the Quarters was alive with people quite obviously not usually there, people seeking out the art.  I understand Tix on the Square ran out of its free maps of the exhibition early in the afternoon.  I printed my own copy of  the one online.

I think I nearly found all the artworks.  Let’s see . . .

First up (on my route) is Jill Stanton’s parking lot sized painted pebble faux mosaic “You will be okay” — the title is the text — a huge statement of reassurance to a depressed and cloudy sky.  The colours are the colours of sidewalk chalk and I couldn’t help but think of “The Edmonton Remand Centre Newspaper” and Lindsay Bond’s photographic project documenting it.  “You will be okay” is a gargantuan shout of all the messages chalked each day on that nearby sidewalk it marvelous.  A marvelous and thought provoking piece of ephemeral art.

A little further west on 102A Ave is “Futile Fancy” by Jes McCoy.  From a distance I thought of the mini-golf set-up at Fort Edmonton Park.  Close up I thought of a playground but an oddly and intriguingly non-functonal and perhaps unfinished playground.  Then I realized it is an obstacle course.  Perhaps the apparent non-functionality and unfinishedness makes Futile Fancy a metaphor for the City itself.

Around the orner, beside the old Koerman Block, present home of the Hung Fung and the Alberta Kwan Ying Athletic Clubs, is Tiffany Shaw-Collinge’s “Garden Reflections”, a beautiful sudden garden of straw planters, beautifully complementing the old wall with its faded painted ads.  Despite the rain, I wanted to sit and enjoy the curve of the paths and the warmth of the soil. Having long been fascinated with Jeremy Bentham, I found the allusion to his Panopticon prison design both interesting and, in this context, thought provoking.

Up on 103A Avenue, there is a “Lonely Mountain” by Mackenzy Albright and Rachelle Bowen, although how such an inviting, stairway riven mountain could be lonely I don’t understand, especially with Jackson McConnell’s whimsical lollipop tree and cartoon city “Campsite” tent right at its foot.

At the far north of the exhibition space, on 104 Avenue, is Holly Newman’s lovely poem of loss and hope, “Crow’s Advice” on a series of banners.  As well there is a wall of tags on which to offer advice for mending a broken heart and tiny fabric hearts to take away as payment for suggestions.  “Crow’s Advice” surrounds Emily van Driesum’s “The Placebo Effect”, a grove of cut poplar saplings, literally (in a figurative sense) stitched into place, drying and fading as the days pass, a bit of a forest in the Quarters, but a placebo, not the real thing.

More than half of the large works in Dirt City/Dream City are concentrate at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 95 Street.  Nickelas Johnson’s “Ripped off and Red” is the most eye-catching, a huge, red-painted severed hand lying palm up in the green grass.  Nearby is Aaron Paquette’s beautiful “Everyone is Welcome”, an uncovered tipi frame sheltering an apple tree and surrounded by a flower garden. The whole is set on something of a medicine wheel.  The coloured cloths hanging from the tipi poles bring to mind a visit to the Rib Stones east of Edmonton, where similar but smaller bits of cloth perpetually hang from the branches of the poplar grove near to the sacred stones.  The Quarters, a very human place,  like every human space, is a sacred space.

Across Jasper is Destiny Swiderski’s monumental rope structure “Dream Catcher” completely prepared to catch some exceptionally big dreams.  I expect such dreams will come.

A number of pieces are on billboards and might too easily be ignored.  Nickelas Johnson’s “Tent City” is a beautiful, slightly abstracted design of tents in blue.  Matt Prins’ “Billboard for 91.2 FM The Mouth Hole” is a lovely parody of the many obnoxious ads for radio shows that litter every city.  As well, the billboard is a real ad for a fictional program on the real very low power radio transmitter (91.2 on your FM dial) that can be picked up in a very limited area around the Artery (9535 Jasper Ave.)

“My Heart is in Quarters” by Aaron Paquette is a truly lovely painting, an image of three peacefully sleeping figures, a family, in Paquette’s usual style of bright, solid colours, strong lines, and gold leaf.  I first encountered and was struck forcefully by Paquette’s work in the Narrative Quest show earlier this summer at the RAM.  For me, “My Heart is in Quarters” is a high point of Dirt City/Dream City.

Carly Greene’s “Simulacrum” is easy to miss:  clothes hanging from lines between buildings.  But the clothes are hung with iron pins, intended to rust and streak the clothing, marking them with history as the old buildings of the Quarters are marked with their history.  Certainly this day of rain in Edmonton will help complete Greene’s vision.

Andrew Buzschak’s “Pulse Points” are scattered throughout the Quarters, easy to miss blue signs on poles, a little like slightly shortened street signs.  But, look more closely:  Buzschak has used phrases from the City’s urban renewal boosting literature in an ironic and cautionary contrast to the current state of some areas of the Quarters.  The signs are lit in the evening by solar powered lights which will certainly make the pieces, and their message, stand out very well.

Unfortunately I didn’t see Adam Waldron Blain performing on his violin.  what a wonderful addition to the exhibition his music would be.  Together with the soundscape provided by 92.1 FM, live music makes Dirt City/Dream City an inspired moment in the history of the Quarters.

And history is something that runs through the entire exhibition.  The history of the community that has been here, that is here today, and that will continue to be here in the future, whatever the bulldozers and builders may have in store.  Dirt City/Dream City is a gentle warning, a firm reminder, and, from what I saw today, a much visited statement that the Quarters is not terra nullius.  This is a community, a community of communities with a rich history and a vibrant present.  Both must be recognized and respected if future redevelopment is to be itself something living rather than just a dead pile of concrete, steel and polystyrene.

It’s summer.  Go down to the Quarters and have a walk around.  See the art.  See the communities so often ignored.  Think.  Consider.  Remember.

And know that no Dream City ever becomes real without a Dirt City to live in.

Update, July 31: it’s just been announced that Dirt City/Dream City has been extended to the end of August.

Adventures in Alberta’s Public Health Care System: A True Story

I wasn’t going to do parenting (special needs or otherwise) or politics when I started writing from behind my hedge, but . . .

All this in less than 36 hours:

Yesterday morning, I finally accepted that that inexplicable ulcer on the Kid’s ankle wasn’t going to heal any time soon without Modern Medical Intervention, so, I decided, no school today, let’s go to the clinic across the Ravine.  We arrived a little past ten in the morning and . . .

no other patients in the waiting room.

About ten minutes later, we were on our way to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription and the doctor was on the phone to the Wound Care Clinic at the Firefighters’ Burn Centre at the U of A Hospital arranging a referral for us.  Shortly after, prescription in hand, we were driving across town to drop in on a friend (former nurse and EMT, now butcher) when my phone rang.

“Can you get to the Wound Clinic right away?” asked the doctor’s receptionist.  “They say they’ll see you right now.”

After a quick visit to our friend, we went on to the U of A and found out there had been a mis-communication:  the doctor was in the OR and couldn’t see us for two hours.  We got the usual for lunch, a grilled cheese sandwich on brown, from the Hospital’s food service.  With time still to kill, we hopped on the LRT for a ride, something we had planned to do after the initial visit to the local clinic.

To Clairview and back and then back up to the third floor  to the Wound Clinic.  About 45 minutes later, we were on our way with a newly cleaned and dressed ulcer, a huge collection of dressing materials, and an appointment with a dermatologist for today at 11:30 and a referral to another surgeon in two weeks.

Today we went to the dermatologist who gave us a new prescription for the kid’s auto-immune thing and he took her on as his patient.  Then he arranged for a referral to Home Care for her dressing changes twice a week.  Then to the lab for a blood test and later this afternoon, Home Care called to set up the dressing changes and they also started setting up an assessment for her for any other needs she might have.

So.  Thirty-six hours. A family physician, a plastic surgeon, a dermatologist, a number of residents, a referral to another plastic surgeon, countless nurses (“Katharine was nice”, the Kid told me as we left yesterday),  home care, huge sacks of medical supplies, four prescription drugs, blood test  . . .

and . . .

total out of pocket expenses:

about thirty bucks for parking and lunch and two transit tickets.

Family Doctor: no charge
Specialists: no charge
Nurses: no charge
Residents: no charge
Supplies: no charge
Blood Test: no charge
Prescription Drugs: no charge (thanks to AISH)

In the current election campaign here in Alberta there’s been a lot of talk about our Health Care system being broken.  I’m sure there are problems.  I’m sure people have bad and sometimes horrible experiences.  But I want to be on the record with the fact that for eighteen years now the Kid has had consistently amazing treatment from Alberta’s Public Health Care System.

If this is a broken health care system, let’s fix it.

Then maybe we’ll all live forever!

I also want to mention, there’s a beautiful display of Aaron Paquette’s artwork (see my blog entry on Narrative Quest) on the third floor north of the Wound Care Clinic.  Anyone who’s in Edmonton and appreciates art owes it to themselves to head over the the hospital and ride the elevator up to the third floor.  But watch out for the rightmost of the South elevators — it bites!

Impressions from a visit to “Narrative Quest”

Sadly, I came late to “Narrative Quest”, which closes April 29 at the Royal Alberta Museum.  In the first week of April I managed to get in three visits, but I know there are still huge gaps in my experience of the art on display.  The exhibition is a display of works from the collection of the Alberta Foundation for the arts by twenty-two First Nations artists.  Most artists are represented by multiple works only some of which are mentioned here.  One artist, William Singer III, somehow missed my attention on all three visits.  My apologies to Mr. Singer.  I will try to visit the exhibition at least once more and I will pay special attention to Mr. Singer’s work and update this entry accordingly.

The works are well displayed within the exhibition (except, apparently, those of Mr. Singer) although the space is slightly hidden behind an exhibition of giant photographs of moths.  Certainly the big moths draw in families and I noticed many families spilling over into Narrative Voices and they seemed genuinely excited and impressed with the art.

A soundscape has been provided by Jason Chamakese   playing the North American Indian Flute.  The music is ideal:  unobtrusively  beautiful and yet worth attending to as Chamakese’s own piece in the exhibition.

On my second visit, on a quiet weekday early afternoon, I had the gallery largely to myself and went from work to work making brief notes on some works of each artist.  On my third visit I tried to fill in a few gaps — artists I had missed before, spellings I couldn’t make out in my handwriting.  What follow are my notes almost exactly as I wrote them as I stood in front of the works described.  I have added links to further information about some of the artists.  As I looked at the works I often noted what I took to be the influence of Jane Ash Poitras or Alex Janvier in the work of artists I was less familiar with, but, with reflection, I can’t help but think that the echoes are the effect of drawing on a common cultural rather than  an individual artist’s influence.  I don’t know.

Narrative Quest is dedicated to the memory of Joane Cardinal-Schubert.

Dale Auger 

“Call of the Blue Medicine Lodge”, 2000, is a fine piece to greet the visitor.  A blue jay stands on a stone on the right, balanced by a pair of eagle feathers on the left, all on a yellow ochre background.  Above is a red band with two rows of blue dots, ten in each row.  It is a very heraldic composition, very balanced and dignified.

Bruno Canadien

– influence of Jane Ash Poitras obvious.

poignant statements on dispossession in collage of ribbons, yarn and found images

Painted maps with water courses, particularly  “Mini Sosa”, 2008,  quietly echo Janvier

Joane Cardinal-Schubert

Very traditional motifs in stunning large canvas and paper.  Teepee decorations in the gallery, where they belong perfectly.

Traditional motifs making very contemporary political comments

“Medicine Wheel (There is no Hercules)”

with two teepee poles acting as frame/supports, a stunning portrait of a medicine wheel floating in the sky.  Spirit figures dance? watch? wait?

Jason Carter

“The Considerate Baby Bison” 2008 wonderstone is almost birdlike, but, is it a children’s slide?

“Mother Eagle” soapstone, 2008 Not so successful — it is just a wee bit too much like a towel holder.

Delia Cross Child

“Take your Hat off Edward Curtis,” 2008

Five faceless figures standing in a field of flame, yellow ochre, seven sun circles across the top.

beautiful monumental painting.

Edward Curtis is, of course, the late 19th early 20th century photographer who devoted most of his life to photographing First Nations people in the western U.S. and Canada.

David Garneau

Fascinating dot paintings.  “Lac Ste Anne” is all golden light as the figures wade in the sacred waters.

“At the Fiddle Camp” is the swirl of sky and air and smoke.  The teepee is almost a blanket wrapped grandmother.

Tanya Harnett

“Persona Grata”

series of 16 photo self-portraits.

Disturbing uplifting, amusing, beautiful in the extreme.

Faye HeavyShield

– “Blood” 2004

a cascade of red ochre cotton strings with tiny cotton bundles also red ochre tied a few inches apart.  The bundles are almost tiny human figures or miniature versions of “Red Dress”.  This is a haunting work.

“Red Dress”

There is a dress in the corner with no gallery tag.  Simple of cut, red with a single line of beads across the chest and metal rim tags (price tags?  artifact tags?)  in two rows below.

an appreciation of Faye HeavyShield

Heather Henry

Heather Henry’s “Untitled” 2007 mixed media is another small gem.  Is it a bird’s nest? a well? an eye? Is it beautiful? Yes.

Terrance Houle 

Terrance Houle’s “Urban Indian” series of photos seems initially marvellously unselfconscious, but it is actually very full of both pride and humour.

Alex Janvier

What to say?  Alex Janvier is a Canadian Icon.  I have known and loved his art since I was a teenager in the ’70s.

“Untitled” 2009

A creamy brightness with a hint of bone.

“Cold Lake Air” 1994

Beautiful, beautiful blues of sky and water.

“Apple Factory” 1989

More representational than Janvier usually is.  A startling (and darkly humourous) statement on the residential school disaster.  This one piece could occupy whatever time is available.

Brenda Jones-Smith

“Transform” and “place to gather” digital prints 2001

shawled women’s figures from the rear in various bands with bands of yellow ochre, green, red, yellow and blue.  Poitras influence evident.

Eric Lee Christopherson

“Red-Tailed Hawk” and “Merlin in flight”

The Merlin’s face is so expressive.  and Christopherson has beautifully solved the problem of sculpting a bird in flight.  The merlin’s wingtips embrace the earth, not anchoring the bird, but lifting and sheltering Turtle Island into the sky.  This is a riveting piece.

“Red Tailed Hawk” from the right comfortably resting from the left about to take flight.

George Littlechild

“Tom Longboat” 1990 A monumental portrait of the Onondaga long-distance runner of the first half of the last century.

“Primal Elements#1” 2006 is another prairie first nations collage.

“CrossCultural Examination #2” 2007 is Littlechild using digital collage to make an expressive, balanced composition of the before and after of Native history.

Terry McCue

Eye-catching and beautiful rainbow portraits of wildlife.  But these and not ordinary animals.  They are spirit creatures.  The Bison’s eyes in “Grandfather’s Tears” are inexpressible.

Frederick McDonald

Frederick McDonald’s small gems “Home Sweet Home” and “Thunderbird’s World #4” Beautiful pieces executed with certainty and precision.

Aaron Paquette

Luminous canvases incorporating gold-leaf exquisitely.  Painting which strives almost successfully to be stained glass.

(Update, April 19, 2012:  a big collection of Aaron Paquette’s work lines the main long balcony/corridor on the third floor of the Walter Mackenzie Centre [University of Alberta Hospital] for those who have missed Narrative Quest or just need a fix.  Well worth a visit whether you need to see a doctor or not.)

Jane Ash Poitras

She is simply stunning!

Each collage is filled to overflowing with memories, history, dignity.  Abstractly expressionist and rigidly formal at the same time.

Her small shadow boxes from 2005 “Da Vinci’s conception” and “Samuel Morse’s Communication” are easily missed, but don’t.

“Gathering Medicine” 2003 is an absolutely beautiful piece, a collage of historic photos of women forming a column in the centre, bracketed by exquisite painted poppies and fly agaric mushrooms on the right, a startling blue jay, sage and sprigs of actual cedar leaf on the left.

Heather Shillinglaw 


10 square floral collages in mixed media on black painted canvas. breathtaking.

Stewart Steinhauer

stone sculptures

“In the Sweatlodge” 1992 is a stunningly rich piece.  So many animal figures comprise the sweatlodge:  bison x 2, eagle, goose?x 2, human? face x 2.  Are those fingers forming the floor?

Steinhauer’s “Papamihaw Asini (Flying Rock)” 1999, modelled on the Iron Creek Manitou Stone, is permanently on display in the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture on the second floor of the Museum, near the Manitou Stone.

William Singer III


Adrian Stimson

“Post Modern Bison” another darkly witty piece, a bison hide stretched into a rectangle but with still a hint of shoulder hump in the top centre.

Justin Wandering Spirit

“Wuskwa” is a beautiful black serpentine bear.

Some general thoughts

Narrative Quest is simply a beautiful exhibition, providing a stunning cross section of the rich art being produced in Alberta by aboriginal artists.  In the context of this exhibition, the fact that the content flows from First Nations is relevant.  I want to emphasize, however, that these works, while certainly reflective of their makers’ nationality, are on display not because they are great aboriginal art (which they undoubtedly are), but because they are Great Art, with no ethnic adjectives necessary and, thankfully,  no justification offered.  Narrative Quest is not an ethnographic exhibition, it is an exhibition of works by professional Canadian artists.  These works could — and should — be displayed in any gallery in the world.

I hope that the Alberta Foundation For the Arts will arrange to tour the exhibition to galleries around the Province.

I dream that one day Narrative Quest will tour the country and the world.