“Splash Mi’kmaq all over Epekwitk!”

Chief Darlene Bernard gave a powerful speech this afternoon to start the last day of the 20th annual Lennox Island First Nation mawi’omi (or pow wow). I wish I had a copy of her speech to share here, but the one theme that jumped out at me was her assertion that the Mi’kmaq language must become more widely used on Prince Edward Island if it is to survive.

Chief Bernard’s request to “splash Mi’kmaq all over Epekwitk” wasn’t just a direction to her people but to all Epekwitnewaq (residents of Epekwitk), including non-indigenous settlers like me. I suppose since non-indigenous people are the majority population on PEI, her direction was especially for us.

So, if you are a settler on Indigenous land, please consider learning and using a few words in the language of the first peoples of your region. If you own a business here on Prince Edward Island/Epekwitk, perhaps you could find a way to add Mi’kmaq to your signage or website.

If you are a PEI government official, it is time that the Mi’kmaq language is used more widely across PEI and not just in token, select settings. The Mi’kmaq people don’t have the power to change signage and usage, but you do.

It’s not difficult to start using Mi’kmaq. When we reopened our Prince County Hospital Auxiliary gift shop in the hospital lobby in June 2020 after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was asked to make some signs for the shop, including one to thank our customers. I asked if it could be in three languages – English, French and Mi’kmaq – and the other volunteers said that was fine, so this is what we installed:

At first a couple of people thought wela’lin was Chinese for thank you, and that’s understandable because this is all new. At least a few more people have seen and learned the Mi’kmaq word for thank you. Maybe it has made a few people think about why they are only seeing this word for the first time now when it should really have been everywhere forever.

This language learning is probably going to feel awkward to start. Chief Bernard said that we need to be kind to each other as we learn, that we will make mistakes, and that’s ok. The important thing is to try, and the awkwardness will eventually pass.

When elder Junior Peter-Paul gave a blessing in Mi’kmaq today, the only words I knew were wela’lin and wela’lioq (used to thank more than one person). He used them many times to thank the Creator. I know that saying wela’lioq to the Mi’kmaq people isn’t nearly enough, but it is a small start, and things can only get better from here.

Wela’lin. Thank you.

Fanny Brice in Charlottetown? Hmm…

The Charlottetown Guardian from August 7, 1946 contained this little item:

To my generation, Fanny Brice was just the character played by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, but she had been a Big Deal in American entertainment in the first half of the 1900s. According to Wikipedia, Fanny was married three times, all ending in divorce. Her third marriage was to Billy Rose, and that divorce came in 1938.

So, the gal in this news item was either Fanny Brice pretending to be “Sadie, Sadie married lady,” or some Boston lady pretending to be Fanny Brice. Hilarious either way.

Kindness just happens

Last week I noticed something odd with the wood trim around our kitchen window. Our guest bedroom is above our kitchen, and on inspection I found some damp, warped hardwood floor and mould in the corner hidden behind a bedside table, sign of a radiator leak that had probably been going on for weeks, if not months.

All the gory details of how this is going to be fixed are not entirely clear or important. As the nice fellow from the disaster restoration company reminded me, there aren’t any problems with a house that can’t be fixed with time and money. We are all alive and healthy, and that is what is most important.

One of the tools I have gained from reading about Stoicism is the idea of practising how to deal with difficult people or situations. I try to remind myself each morning that I might encounter things through the day that will challenge and even upset me, and while I can’t control those things or people, I can control my reaction to them and attempt to remain calm and even-tempered, which is much better for me and those around me.

Sounds great, and sometimes I achieve that equilibrium during upsetting situations, but I got overwhelmed at one point this week and complained to Steven it was unfair and too much, that I try to be a good person and deserve better than having to deal with this complicated emergency renovation. He replied with something very helpful and profound: “This isn’t happening to you; it is just happening.”

That instantly put everything back into context, calmed me down, helped me step back and observe. These problems aren’t divine retribution, it’s just water being drawn earthward by gravity through our walls and flooring. Not ideal, but just the way water works on this planet!

While there is nothing much fun about having large chunks of walls and hardwood flooring ripped up, I am touched by how kind everyone has been, from the insurance company adjustor to the remediation company staff, building supply folks, our plumber arriving on a day off to repair the radiator, everyone helpful, gentle, good humoured, considerate. Not promising the world, not saying it is going to be easy, but saying it will all be fixed, and, most importantly, saying they will help. Kindness upon kindness.

Steven and I drove to Charlottetown yesterday to run a quick errand and escape the loud rattling dehumidifiers. We had so many pleasant interactions throughout the day, gifts literal and figurative, of time and talent and presence. It is when things aren’t going well that the kindness of others shines most brightly, and connects most deeply.

As we made our way home, we dropped into one of my favourite spots in Summerside, Samuel’s Coffee House. I was so happy to see A. behind the counter, a kind reader of this blog and an excellent writer herself. I ordered a cortado (now that I know I can!) and referencing my recent post on the matter, A. offered to make it in a glass. It was perfection, a gift just for me, made with kindness and caring. It tipped the world in my favour. Everything will be all right.

The best cortado.

Shooting Gallery Shore

With nothing else to do while waiting in my car yesterday, I hauled out a PEI road map and looked it over. At the west end of Summerside I saw something new to me: Shooting Gallery Shore.

Shooting Gallery Short

I would have bet my tam-o’-shanter that area is called Green’s Shore, and there is a park with that name at the foot of Greenwood Drive. And when I think of a shooting gallery, I think of those games at amusement parks where you try to hit targets and win prizes. As far as I know, that area of Summerside was never used for that type of entertainment.

When I got home and was poking around the Island Newspapers offering for August 3, 1921, this little notice caught my attention:

A rifle range west of Summerside – bullseye!

A Dilly of a CSA Box

Today was our first veggie box pickup from Webb’s Vegetables at the O’Leary corner. My spring went a bit pear shaped and my vegetable garden suffered as a result, but Steven noticed on Facebook that Webb’s offer a 12-week vegetable box subscription and I jumped in for the first time.

We received a lovely early season selection of produce that makes many an Islander’s heart sing: new potatoes, yellow beans and carrots. I can report everything was delicious.

Just past Webb’s is probably my favourite ice cream destination in the world, the Dairy Royal. It’s not flashy, they don’t have food other than potato chips, and they only took cash up until last year. It is handy to the Mill River Golf Course, where I spent many hours as a child following my father as he played and then as a junior golfer myself. The Dairy Royal was often a stop on the way home from 18 holes, a strawberry milkshake for my father and an ice cream cone for me.

They make their own dilly bars, but couldn’t get the chocolate dip needed to make them last year, so I felt like I was six years old again as I walked up to the tall order window and asked if they had dillies this year. Yes, they had dillies, and soon I had one in my hand again, in it’s paper sleeve, a generous dollop of ice cream with a very nice curl. It was perfect. Steven had an ice cream sandwich, the server advising that the cookie was still a bit crispy as they had just made them yesterday.

So, the O’Leary corner is not just for the hockey player doughnut shop, at least in the summer – there are wonders to be found.

“…in the literary sense.”

The Charlottetown Guardian from this date in 1921 had many mentions of off-island visitors, including a couple of some note, Rev. and Mrs. Ewen MacDonald:

Of course, Mrs. MacDonald was only famous “in the literary sense”, not in any way that really mattered! The writer could have ended with “famous” but just couldn’t help themselves from adding a true PEI cutting down to size of someone who had, even by that time, achieved worldwide fame and admiration.

That Mrs. MacDonald was able to achieve any of what she did was an absolute miracle if you have read about her personal struggles, and in the ridiculous atmosphere that women have endured for most of human history. Case in point, an editorial from the same edition, which starts promisingly and then, well, you’ll see:

It goes on, but we get it. Dear Mrs. MacDonald. Is it any wonder she created impetuous, outspoken Anne when this was what was said of the courageous and capable women who might stand for public office? Creating an outspoken, bold girl would be a relief valve to keep from screaming, I expect.

The sounds of the land

The upcoming merger of four PEI credit unions means the new entity will need a new name. I just completed a member survey where I was asked to rate and give my response to six possible new names…or, rather, five new names and the name of one of the existing credit unions.

The first two sounded like the names of cars, the next one reminded me of John A. MacDonald and colonialism (not a favourable association), the fourth was surprisingly light and fun, the fifth just didn’t sound good to me, and the last one was that existing credit union name. Choosing the existing name would make some members angry that they lost their local credit union name in the merger while other members got to keep theirs, confirming earlier concerns raised at public meetings that the whole process felt like a centralised takeover which would weaken rural voices. I found it an odd choice after all the acrimony.

Although there wasn’t a place to offer other suggestions, I wrote into one of the response boxes that I wanted them to pick a Mi’kmaw word. It is the language of the first people of this island, the real language of this land. It is a rich, living language, unlike the Latin and Latin-derived words the (probable) branding consultants chose. I don’t have a suggestion for what the new credit union could be called, because that should be up to the Mi’kmaq.

I have just started reading Isabelle Knockwood’s 1992 book Out of the Depths about the experiences of Mi’kmaw children who were sent to the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Just an hour before the survey landed in my inbox, I had read this sentence about Knockwood’s memories of listening to elders telling stories:

The stories were ancient, and the language in which they were told was even older. According to my mother, Deodis, the Mi’kmaw language evolved from the sounds of the land, the winds and the waterfalls. As far as we know, there is no other language like it spoken anywhere else in the world.

What an opportunity to have the Mi’kmaw language more visible across this island, on the side of many branches of a new credit union, something unique, truly from and of Epekwitk.

[I’ve read many explanations of the difference between Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaw, and am struggling to use the words correctly, so I welcome corrections; I would rather try and fail than not try at all!]

Secret Menu

I’m a fairly regular customer at Samuel’s Coffee House in Summerside, so felt bold enough last week to ask one of the staff if they ever considered adding cortados to their lineup. I fairly squealed with delight when she said they did make cortados, but it never made it onto their menu board, although they do have a button for it on their cash system. They don’t use little glasses like Receiver Coffee in Charlottetown, and I feel it’s a slightly bigger drink than Receivers, but it is completely delicious all the same. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask about it before, but the coffee drink you need will emerge when you are ready for it!

So now you know the secret, too, and are a Samuel’s insider. Tell them Thelma sent you.

Epekwitk Quill Sisters

Today two Miꞌkmaq porcupine quill artists, Kayla and Noella, harvested white birch bark from the trees in the forest where I live. Kayla is one of the Epekwitk Quill Sisters, with Cheryl Simon, and I’ve been listening to their podcast since it started in May. It was wonderful to meet Kayla and see Noella again, as I took a quilling workshop with her on Lennox Island First Nation a few years ago.

They have mentioned in the podcast that it can feel unsafe to harvest birch bark in public places, that non-indigenous people can harass birch bark harvesters, so I told Cheryl and Kayla about the birch trees around our house. I was happy they could get some big, beautiful pieces of bark, which is used as the base of their artwork. They may return to harvest cedar and spruce roots, too, and will be back for more bark in future years. The trees will heal over the next few years, and then can be harvested again in 15-20 years, perhaps by Kayla and Noella’s children or grandchildren.

Bark harvesting can only be done for a few weeks in the summer, after the trees have drawn up nutrients from the ground in the spring. Harvesters know the bark is ready when fireflies appear, though this is starting to be a less reliable indicator than it once was due to climate change. I got to pull a piece of bark off the tree, and it felt like damp leather. The tree didn’t bleed because the cuts don’t go deep enough to hit the tree’s vascular system. The cracking sound was unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.

While I was watching them harvest, I picked wild strawberries, wild raspberries and the first blueberries I’ve seen this season. The forest is full of traditional foods and medicine.

Some of the birch trees in the forest now look a little different, but this is Miꞌkmaꞌki, and this is what the landscape should look like. Now if you see a tree that has been properly harvested in a public place, you will know it is not vandalism – it is anti-colonialism, it is culture, it is resilience .

I invite you to listen to the Epekwitk Quill Sisters, especially the episode about harvesting birch bark and a very moving episode about family.

Harvested trees
Lots of bark to be shared with other quillers
No harm done

Opening and closing

Last time I bought paint, the clerk gave me a can opener.

Today when putting painting supplies away, I noticed this tool is also a paint can closer.

I assumed the flat end was the opener (which it is) and the other end was a bottle opener, for whatever reason in the 21st century when hardly any bottle cap needs to be pried off. Turns out the bottle opener part is for pushing down the can lid, using the sticking-out part as a lever. It works ok – probably really well on an unused can of paint – but I was dealing with a 19-year-old can, so a rubber mallet was more effective to get a good seal.

Paint Can Openers | Anthony & Co.

How to keep paint usable for two decades? Seal the can as tightly as possible, probably with a rubber mallet and not the closing tool, then turn the can upside down and store in a cool, dry area. The paint seals the lid completely. It will thicken over time, and can get sort of weird, but just strain it through cheesecloth or old pantyhose and you might be able to paint over a patch in a wall, as I just did. I bought what I thought was pricey paint for the inside of our house in 2002, and it still looks fresh and the leftover paint pretty much still matches after all these years.

One last tip: when you first invert that sealed paint can, put it in a cardboard box for a few hours to test that the lid is firmly attached and not leaking. Paint spilled all over your shelf and/or floor is the mistake I made so you don’t have to!