Joe Bloggs:An Unlikely Hussar Part 39 My Visit to the Cree Indian Reservation in Canada in 1973

joe in the Rocky Mountains Canada

When our band was told that we would be going to Petawawa in Canada to play at the centenary celebrations of our sister regiment The 8th Canadian Hussars in July 1973, I hoped that I would be selected to go. At that time I was still only a sergeant but I was lucky enough to be part of that tour. We had a very long bus journey to Lahr, where the Canadian Airforce were based, and after a brief stay, we boarded a Canadian military plane for the transatlantic flight. It was a very rough trip without the comfort of a civilian aircraft. We stopped off in Rejkyavik, Iceland for a while and then flew over Greenland before reaching the Canadian mainland. Military aircraft are very noisy and to endure that for hours on end was bad enough but then we came into turbulence due to a tornado and the pilot had to “make a couple of whirls” while waiting for the storm to pass before we could land the plane. On our descent, I could see the devastation the storm had caused to the landscape, roads and houses and I was relieved to land safely.

Canadian military transport picked us up at Ottawa airport and took us on the long road journey to Petawawa Camp which would be our base during our stay. There were no frills or luxuries in our accommodation, as to be expected in a military barracks, but our hosts were warm, welcoming and friendly and we settled in, unpacking our instruments, uniforms and music and practising for our first concert at a place called Ralston. This was in Alberta province, a vast distance away. The concert went down very well with the people in Ralston and the locals were pleased to host us. The concerts were all well attended. We also played football matches against Canadians while we were there. Football was in its infancy in Canada at that time. The localised weather astounded me as one half of the pitch could be in sweltering sunshine while the other half could be experiencing pouring rain.

Travelling to functions took a lot of time because of the distances involved. I filmed as much as I could with my cine camera. I was fascinated by the Rocky Mountains and wondered how could there be so much snow on them in the middle of such a long hot summer. The biggest event we played was at the Calgary Stampede, arguably the biggest stampede in the world. A stampede is a kind of rodeo, so there were plenty of competitions where they had to lasso wild horses or cattle and brand them. Buffalo had been trained to climb onto the roofs of huge waggons and there were chuck-waggon races with plenty of betting going on. I had never seen any of this before and was pleased to get it all on film. Thousands of people were there and top entertainers performed on a massive stage. “The Young Canadians” did a brilliant act and the star attraction was “The Alberta All-Girls Band” who had performed at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. They marched along in formation, dressed all in white with white Busby hats. I will never forget playing at such a famous event. We also played at the “Whoop-up Days” in Edmonton where hundreds of bands were performing in a carnival style event.

We had a lot of free time and I made the most of it by visiting as many places as I could. One of these was the location of a dreadful landslide disaster called “Frank Slide” where a whole community of thousands had been buried by half the mountain breaking away and sliding over them as they went about their lives. It had led to a law being passed to prevent building there ever again. Above I am pictured with other members of the band in front of Happy Hans, the mascot of Kimberley, “the Bavarian town in the Rockies”, where gold mining and logging was taking place at the time.

The next stampede we played at was at Medicine Hat. It was a lot smaller than Calgary and therefore seemed a lot more friendly and hospitable, so I was able to get to know a few of the people running the event and that friendship continued for many years afterwards. They invited me to their homes and we exchanged gifts. They were warm, fun-loving people. Among them was the leader of the Cree Indian nation, Mr Yellani and his daughter Nora, who was attending the University of Alberta in Edmonton. They were “Treaty Indians” for whom the State provided everything including the very best education available. Nora and her university friend invited me to visit their reservation to see how they lived and meet some of their elders. I didn’t hesitate about taking them up on their invitation and I had an unbelievable experience during my short stay with them. They lived in tepees as I was expecting, but I wasn’t prepared for what I would find inside them. In what was the size of a large front room there were fridges and freezers, music boxes and televisions, fully carpeted just like any other modern home. I found it unbelievable. I got to sample their “prairie food” such as flat bread made from grains with wild meat such as a pigeon pot-roast and another time a barbecued turkey, which I found rather tough. They also served up half-raw fish. They dried, salted and pickled their meat and of course they froze some of it, because getting through the winters on the reservation when they were cut off by snow for months on end, would be helped by the banks of freezers they had and the generators they had to power them. I noticed that they burned and buried all their food waste so as to cover their tracks and keep away dangerous wild animals.

While I was with the Cree nation, they took me up into the mountains to see how they fished, and I saw herds of wild buffaloes which they were only allowed by law to hunt at certain times of year. There were plenty of gofers and rattlesnakes along the way and I watched them kill a rattlesnake after trapping it with a forked stick. Of course I asked lots of questions, but I found them to be very secretive about many things. They distrusted outsiders and would only pass on their knowledge to their own kin who would understand their traditions and want to keep them. They were comfortable with living their lives apart from the rest of society, which was just as well because laws in Canada forbade them from being served alcohol or to drink it and it appeared that they were discriminated against in other ways as well. They spent most of their time on the reservation. Nora’s role at university was to study law so she could help the Treaty Indians understand the Treaty Law that affected them and see that their rights were not infringed. Her father, Mr Yellani was an MP representing the Treaty Indians. When we were back in Ottawa again, we visited the Ottawa Parliament and got permission to sit in on a debate where Mr Yellani was present. They were debating whether the television programme “Sesame Street” should be allowed to be shown on television on Indian reservations. It gave me an understanding of the Treaty Indian viewpoint that I hadn’t really thought about before. I always felt some sympathy with how they had been treated in their past history, but now it would have more meaning for me. Future band cabarets would see me taking up their cause in some of my songs.

My trip to Canada was by far the most interesting in my career to this point. It seemed to me that the Canadians had a very harmonious society where an interesting cultural mix lived side by side without hatred. I suppose with hindsight, I had been suffering from the tourist’s blindness to what is really going on underneath the welcoming faces that tourists are normally shown. I loved it so much that in the rash enthusiasm of the moment, I wanted to go back there and live and work. However, once back at work in Germany, the realities of the practical drawbacks of uprooting my family and taking my career in a different direction made me drop that idea and continue on the path I had planned out for myself.

If you want to know how I went on to achieve my ambitions in international sport and music around the globe, then click on the “follow” pop-up button at the bottom right hand corner of this page, and sign up, or follow me on my “Jane Joseph author” page on Facebook. Earlier parts of the story are also found on this website. If you want to find out what happened in my later life when I returned to help develop my birth country Guyana in South America, then order “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 published by Sapodilla Press available in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk, order it through Waterstones or your local book store via Nielsens teledata or read it in Kindle format ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1 available worldwide on Amazon.com

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