In a classic 1978 photo, a group of Indigenous kids marvelled at the sights when they travelled to the big city for the time
|Toronto Star 26 Sep 2021 at 21:56|
When Alvin Fiddler (seated, left), former Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, was a boy in 1978, he and two dozen friends travelled 1,400 kilometres from Muskrat Dam in Northern Ontario to Toronto, where they were captured by Star photographer Keith Beaty giggling at the sight of their own faces on a television monitor. It was the first TV they had ever seen.
“Our community was completely isolated from the rest of the world,” says Roy Morris, principal of the local school, who has taught and provided spiritual guidance to the community since the early ’70s. “We had no power, no running water, no telephone except one for community use, no internet, no airport, no road,” he says. “Chartering a float plane was our only means of travelling out to the towns and cities.
“From this environment,” he continues, “a trip to the big city was a wondrous adventure.”
Among the many places the kids visited in Toronto was rock radio station CHUM. There they were given T-shirts bearing its logo, which they put to good use when they returned home. “The boys named their baseball team CHUM,” says Morris. “The shirts became their uniforms, and [the team] represented CHUM with flying colours.”
Morris is clearly proud of all the students, as he rejoices in both their youthful and adult accomplishments. “Don Beardy (standing, left) was our pitcher and he did magic with the ball. His pitches floated and seemed to get stuck on the baseball bats when struck.” Today Beardy is an artist who paints in acrylics. “He has done some really good pieces,” Morris says. “He is also a musician and performs at various gospel jamborees. He is not a stranger to pop music, either.”
Alvin’s cousin John Fiddler (seated, right) works for Muskrat Dam First Nation. “He drives and handles heaving machinery for various projects,” says Morris, who appreciates Fiddler’s important and challenging role, constructing and clearing roads: “Maintaining the roads requires long hours, especially during and after heavy snow, high winds and blizzards.”
Morris, 70, says he is “honoured” to have overseen the children of Muskrat Dam for generations, including his own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Remembering adventures with his own grandparents, Morris says, “My grandparents lived some 30 kilometres down river from our community. [Sometimes] they would take me back with them. My grandmother would make a comfortable seat for me in the middle of the canoe. She would place a snack of fish flakes mixed with blueberries within reach. I spent my time looking at the shoreline and looking at the birds.” Once settled, Morris would help with the chores: “Gathering firewood, getting water for tea and cooking, getting fresh tree boughs for carpeting the tipi, and taking care of the potato garden.” He and his grandmother would pick berries, set fish nets, and smoke the fish they caught, while his grandfather hunted duck and moose. Then, the trio would paddle back to share the harvest with the community. “For a young boy,” he says, “this was magical time.”
Today, Morris continues his work to ensure the youth of Muskrat Dam have rich and fulfilling educational opportunities. “We still take our students on trips to the cities,” he says, citing visits to Winnipeg, Ottawa, Edmonton and southern Ontario. “These trips still bring excitement and learning experiences.”
And he has great faith in the kids of Muskrat Dam. “They have a very positive attitude towards life, are well informed, confident, and responsible,” he says. “I am inspired and complete with confidence in them. Once they become of age, I see a great future for our community.”