Thursday, 17 May 2012

On driving across someone else's country

As we approached Sault Ste. Marie late this afternoon, Daniel and I drove through the Garden River First Nation reserve, and passed a bridge which bore a clear statement about where we are:

Yes it is: it's Indian land. Aboriginal land. We've been driving across it since 5pm yesterday when Daniel and I pulled out of Spadina Ave, my street in Toronto, and since this morning when we piled into the little white Prius with Raven and FatDog (some of you may know FatDog as BamBam) and pulled out of Daniel's and Kent's driveway on Silver Birch Rd.

At Midland, a town not far from 'Penetang,' we popped in for lattes and bought reusable coffee mugs - green for Daniel and red for me - and visited the vet so she could say goodbye to the dogs. From Midland the road took us north, snaking up alongside bodies of water: rivers, streams, inlets, bays, lakes, and - because this is how they roll in this part of the world - great lakes. At Sudbury we stopped for burgers which we ate in a freezing wind at the top of a small hill, trying to appreciate the joy of an overexposed picnic alongside a giant nickel. Um, yes, you heard that right. The young girl who served us at the A&W drive thru window enthusiastically instructed us to take photos looking like we are holding the nickel in our hands. Not being the kind of people who refuse to do what the Romans do when in Rome, Daniel and I obliged...

After Sudbury came more driving, more chatting, little sleeps (on the part of the dogs and Daniel - I'd napped this morning after Midland), a few love songs from the ipod, and a stop at Tim Hortons to refill the green and red mugs because, well, you can't drive across Canada without stopping at Timmy's for sustenance. Upon arriving in Sault Ste Marie, we connected with the wonderful Kent, who introduced me to a meal which I have to admit is the best Indian takeaways from a petrol station that I've ever eaten. Actually, it was the first such tikka masala I'd eaten but if I hadnt' seen where we bought it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it! Family dinner back in the hotel room: Kent, Daniel, Raven, FatDog and me. Bliss.

This is day one of the road trip. Or, perhaps, The Road Trip. We're travelling along the Transcanadian highway, a road which feels far more like State Highway 1 in NZ than any of the interstates in the US. A lovely, quietly confident but not strident road... a road which stretches lazily along the contour of the US border much of the way, teasing, coming south almost to touch the country over the hill, and then darting up north to skirt around lakes and press its nose up against prairie cities and rockies before it will deposit us in Vancouver.

Or maybe that's a bit flowery. Maybe it's just a long drive on a long road.

But, long roads are, of necessity, always made on someone's land and there's a process by which Indigenous land becomes sealed and marked and signposted. This is a country which knows about the power of roads (look at occupations in recent times) and a country which still hangs at least some of its national hat on the mythology of a coast-to-coast railroad 'opening up' great stretches of land. As if it was unoccupied, unknown, untraversed, unnegotiated, empty before then. As if 'open' is always better than not.

While "a Maori, a Cherokee, a white dog and a black dog get into a hatchback" sounds like the beginning of an off-colour joke (yes, excuse the pun), it's both humbling and true that every inch we've driven today - and every inch between here and Vancouver and more besides - is over Indian land. Miigwec, wado, he mihi.

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